Dear Wake Forest community,
One of the greatest strengths of higher education is that it is dynamic. It changes. What is a fundamental principle today was a revelatory thought for past generations. Education invites all into an ongoing journey of discovery. The exploration of our past has prompted greater insight and richer understanding, and by engaging our history, we reaffirm the power of education to help broaden our empathy for all human beings.
At Wake Forest, we are passionate about seeking knowledge and pursuing truth. The calling of Pro Humanitate is to use that knowledge and truth to better the lives and communities around us. Today, that community is our own.
CONSIDERING OUR HISTORY
Last summer, I shared with you the creation of the Advisory Committee on Naming, co-chaired by Trustee Donna Boswell and Dean Jonathan Lee Walton. The committee’s charge was to establish guiding principles, conduct historical research and consider meaningful ways to contextualize, remember and honor individuals throughout Wake Forest’s story. Committee members, Trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni came together to research and engage in a series of Call to Conversation events to determine how we can expand the narrative of the University. Building on the work of the Slavery, Race and Memory Project, these efforts have widened our understanding of the context in which Wake Forest was founded and operated from 1834 through 1862.
At the April 2021 Board of Trustees meeting, members of the Advisory Committee on Naming presented findings to the Academic Committee of the Board of Trustees. The Academic Committee explored the research regarding how we acknowledge, remember and honor individuals whose names have been placed on University plaques, memorials and buildings.
During the meeting, the Academic Committee and the Board of Trustees endorsed guiding principles with a goal of creating a more inclusive narrative of our history. In this way, we can determine whether individuals should be honored for their actions or simply remembered. By sharing all we now know and understand of their commitments and context, together we can enlarge a narrative that is inclusive and factual – both challenging and celebratory, heartbreaking and inspiring, painful and healing.
MOVING FORWARD WITH OUR HISTORY
We entered into the exploration of our history with the understanding that discussions about our past would be controversial and potentially polarizing. In April, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to take the actions described below to come to terms with our antebellum heritage. These actions do not address the full story of Wake Forest’s history but are the principal ways that the University intends to address the antebellum period.
We have decided to rename Wingate Hall to “May 7, 1860 Hall,” the date our institution sold at auction 16 human beings that a slave-owning benefactor bequeathed to Wake Forest through his estate. Washington Manly Wingate was the fourth president of Wake Forest University, serving from 1853-1862 and after the Civil War from 1866 until his death in 1879. By renaming this building, we acknowledge the University’s participation in slavery, recognize this aspect of our history and remember those who labored at the institution against their will. We hear their stories, learn their names and honor what they endured for our institution.
While we will change the name of Wingate Hall, we will keep the name of Wait Chapel to underscore the complexity of our story. In leaving the Wait name on the chapel that shares a foundation with the newly named May 7, 1860 Hall, we acknowledge the inherent contradictions that summon our intellect and moral conviction. The complexity and contradictions create a tension that invites engagement with our story and the people whose lives are remembered and honored.
To address this tension, we will launch a process to create a memorial to affirm the humanity and dignity of those previously not remembered or honored in Wake Forest’s antebellum history. It will offer a context for the record of Samuel Wait as the founder of the University who had enslaved persons serving his household. With the information we have, we will expand the story of our founding to accurately and fully reflect the reality of establishing an institution to serve humanity even while actively denying some people their own humanity.
Wake Forest – today as in its history – is an institution that lives in a world where opportunity and achievement are tragically interwoven with injustice and inequity. Against the backdrop of a history that is both storied and deeply flawed, we strive to build a vital community that is welcoming for all. In our motto, Pro Humanitate, we see our great aspiration and acknowledge the imperfection in our efforts. We remain committed to move forward with purpose – seeking knowledge, pursuing truth and affirming the humanity of all.
Later today, I invite you to join our community at Remember with Us: Commemoration of the Enslaved, where we will read the names and remember the lives of the many enslaved people – known and unknown – who were sold by or labored at Wake Forest. After we have heard the names, I will be joined by Trustee leaders to announce the actions outlined above that will help expand the narrative of the University. I also hope you will visit the Expanding the Narrative website that contains the historical research prepared on the principal leaders of the antebellum era and videos featuring Trustee Boswell and Dean Walton, the co-chairs of the Advisory Committee on Naming.
I want to thank all of the members of this community who have helped to create a deeper understanding of our story. I am confident that we will continue to become a place that learns to live more fully and inclusively Pro Humanitate. In doing so, we narrow the gap between the ideals we profess and the lives we lead.
Nathan O. Hatch
Announcement from President Hatch and the Board of Trustees
Remembering Our History and Honoring Our Values
Donna Boswell (’72, MA ’74), Trustee and co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Naming
Something To Be Proud Of
Dean Jonathan Lee Walton, co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Naming