Updated: Wednesday, 05 May 2010, 11:38 AM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 04 May 2010, 5:13 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - It's just a name, seven letters, familiar to many University of Texas students: Simkins.
But it carries with it the wrenching pain of decades of oppression - named after an organizer in one of the most hateful chapters in American history: The Ku Klux Klan.
A former University of Texas law professor, however, is pushing UT officials to change the name of Simkins Hall Dormitory .
Simkins, built in 1954, is named after former UT law professor and Klan organizer William Stewart Simkins .
The Civil War veteran was an organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida and even gave a speech on campus promoting his Klan past, according to university officials and Professor Thomas Russell , who released a research paper last month on Simkins and UT's practices of standardized testing to exclude African Americans.
Russell said the dorm's name needs to change.
"It's simply not appropriate for the University of Texas administrators to continue to honor a Klansman by keeping his name on a dormitory," said Russell.
"After the Civil War," Russell said, "he participated in violence against freed blacks. And then while he was at the university, he used to give a speech advocating his own Klan past."
Russell said no one has actively pushed to change the name of the dorm in recent years, saying the name probably faded from students' memory.
UT officials with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement said Russell's research is not new to them.
"Simkins’ affiliation with the Klan is deplorable and offensive, that is true," said the division's Associate Director of Communications Leslie Blair. "And although he was not memorialized with his name on a building until 1954, The University of Texas has since moved on."
The renaming of the building would require involvement from the Board of Regents, Blair said.
"To rename the building would set a huge precedent—one that could end up costing a great deal of money and time," Blair said. "We feel that a better use of our time and money would be to continue to recruit and to provide programs that support more students, faculty, and staff from populations underrepresented at the University and to further a climate of inclusiveness and cultural diversity that looks to the future instead of dwelling on the past."
Dr. Gregory Vincent, UT's Vice President of Diversity and Community Engagement, added the Simkins Hall Dormitory will be torn down at some point in the future to make way for a more modern building.
"In some ways, this is going to be a moot issue in some time," Vincent said.
Yet, when pressed for a time line of when Simkins Hall may come down, Vincent could not provide one.
UT officials do point to various monuments, statues, and building names that honor underrepresented groups on campus.
Most recently, the university commemorated the Almetris Duren Residence Hall in 2007. Duren was the house mother for female African American students before UT had integrated housing.
As for Simkins, they say it is important to recognize Simkins is a part of UT's history.
"Through a process, with students and faculty, they recognized this particular person," Vincent said. "So the question is now, do we un-recognize those individuals? I think what we need to be careful about is making sure that we send the message that we need to be honest about our history."
Some students who learned of Simkins' past recently said the dorm should have a new name.
"For them to still have it just shows that they still honor him and respect him as a person," said UT student Zainab Wurie. "I think it's very disrespectful that they still have this dorm."
One student living in Simkins Hall seemed mixed on the name change.
"It's obviously very ugly to be involved in an organization such as the KKK," said Simkins Hall Resident Spencer Walker. "I wouldn't say that I'm comfortable making that kind of call."
Russell said the choice is clear.
"Professor Simkins was a Klansman, a white supremacist, a terrorist, and he really doesn't deserve to have the continuing honor of his name upon a dormitory," he said.
Russell's research also points out Simkins Hall was commemorated in 1954, the same year of Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
To read more about how Russell weaves the Brown vs. Board decision with Simkins' past, as well as exclusionary standardized testing practices to keep African Americans out of UT, read more of Russell's research here.