by EMILY KALLMYER
On Thursday, University President Wallace Loh announced the formation of the Byrd Stadium Naming Work Group to facilitate a conversation about the football arena’s controversial namesake.
Supporters of the name change argue that Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, former athletic director and university president, aligned himself with racist and segregationist views contrary to university values.
While talks had stirred in the past, the conversation came to a head last spring, when the Student Government Association endorsed a student-led petition for a name change.
Now, almost half a year later, a task force composed of 19 esteemed faculty members and students will meet to discuss both sides of the argument.
Akeel Alleyne, one of two undergraduate students on the committee, believes the formation of the group is an important step toward addressing diversity issues on campus.
“It’s difficult to have these conversations,” said Alleyne, a super senior Chinese major. “But I feel like especially if we’re going to be a flagship university that’s representing the state of Maryland… we need to represent Maryland in its entire capacity.”
Dr. Kumea Shorter-Gooden, another member of the task force, expressed support for President Loh’s handling of the situation.
“I don’t think there’s an agenda here,” she said. “What he’s asked the task force to do is to really thoughtfully consider various factors that are relevant, are important around the name.”
As the university’s Chief Diversity Officer, she hopes to bring a unique perspective as someone with expertise on issues related to diversity inclusion and higher education.
“I would hope that most people would see this as kind of a fair and valuable process that enables us as a community to acknowledge our history and look at what it says about us, while thinking about whether we ought to make changes in order to signal something for the future,” Shorter-Gooden said.
But when Alleyne asks university students how they feel about the Byrd Stadium name change, he gets mixed responses.
“One [response] that stands out to me the most is, things are always named after people, and not everyone is perfect,” he said.
He also hears the opposing side of that argument, which points out that Byrd’s significant contributions to the university don’t necessarily excuse him from holding those views.
“While we can look at the good of everyone, there are other people who we could dedicate this arena to who didn’t try to keep out the people who are now predominantly utilizing that space,” Alleyne said.
He has made an effort to speak to as many students as he can, gathering their stances on the issue.
“I’ve been trying to ask around just to make sure that I hear what everyone else is saying, and try to compare that to what my own arguments would be,” he said.
In fact, the two undergraduate student members hope to distribute a poll in order to gauge the opinions of a larger percentage of the student body.
The group will have its first meeting on Monday and has the task of delivering their assessment of the name to President Loh by Dec. 11.
According to University System of Maryland policy, the President will then submit a recommendation to the Board of Regents. If that is approved, it will be advanced to the Governor and the General Assembly and/or the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Shorter-Gooden isn’t drawing any conclusions quite yet, however.
“Who knows where we’ll land on it, who knows where President Loh will land,” she said. “But it feels like a very thoughtful process for us to engage in as an academic community.”