This post has been updated.
Colin Byrd hates the name. A second-generation “terrapin” — his father graduated from the University of Maryland in 1978 — he’s leading the campaign to pull the name “Byrd” off of the university’s football stadium, a proposal the student government endorsed in a 13-2-2 vote Wednesday night.
A coalition of student groups says Byrd Stadium’s namesake, H.C. “Curley” Byrd, a former president of the university, was a racist and a segregationist whose beliefs are contrary to the state flagship school’s mission and principles.
The campaign echoes those on many other college campuses, such as the University of North Carolina and Clemson University, which have buildings or other sites named in honor of historic figures or supporters of the college whose views now seem offensive to many.
But these names have complicated histories and, often, ardent alumni support that make changing iconic sites difficult. On other campuses, people have argued that it could amount to whitewashing history, that there are more important ways to improve race relations at the school, and that it doesn’t make sense to try to rename every place associated with ideas or practices that were widespread in their day — such as all the things honoring George Washington, who owned slaves.
The debate at U-Md. is personal for Colin Byrd, a senior from Greenbelt, Md.
“Because, quite frankly, if Curley Byrd had his way, I would not have attended this university,” Colin Byrd said. “My father would not have attended this university. Every other black student, black athlete, black faculty member, who has blessed this university, and who has been blessed by this university, would not have had the opportunity to call themselves terrapins. And that’s powerful.”
The coalition of groups — including the NAACP, the Black Student Union, some other multicultural and Greek organizations — sponsored an open meeting recently to discuss an e-mail written by a U-Md. student that was full of racist (and other) slurs.
That e-mail surfaced just after a video of fraternity brothers at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist chant went viral and further inflamed a national debate about race on campus.
At the meeting in College Park, the coalition of U-Md. students demanded the school change the name of its stadium. They also protested on campus last month.
On Wednesday night, the school’s student government agreed to their resolution, which read in part:
“WHEREAS, Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd (Byrd) , University President 1936-1954, used university funds to build what is now Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium; and,
WHEREAS, during Byrd’s Tenure he barred blacks from participating in sports and enrolling into the University until 1951 …
“THEREFORE BE IT ENACTED, that the SGA stand in solidarity with the student body in support of changing the name of Byrd Stadium; and,
BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, the University work with students, alumni, faculty/staff, athletics, and Capital One to find a suitable name for the football stadium.”
The university’s Web site explains the name:
“Situated at the foot of the campus’ North Hill, the stadium is named for Dr. H.C. Byrd, a multi-sport athlete as an undergraduate who later became head football coach and eventually served as university president. His vision gave University of Maryland preeminence among Eastern campus sports facilities for decades and the impetus for the Terrapins to win more ACC championships than any league school.”
A U-Md. spokesman said Wednesday before the vote that existing names on all buildings on the College Park campus represent the university’s long history and culture. Ultimate authority for the naming of buildings rests with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
“We are not inclined to ignore or try to erase the past of our University, or the past of our state for that matter,” the spokesman said. “However, in accordance with our shared governance practice, this matter has been sent to the University’s Facilities Naming Committee for further review.”
Mike Lurie, a spokesman for the Board of Regents, said in an e-mail that the regents aren’t yet considering such a proposal.
“Currently, the Byrd Stadium renaming question is one that, at this time, is being discussed on the UM College Park campus,” Lurie said. “Proposals to name or rename facilities are to be submitted by the institutional president to the chancellor and the board.”
Colin Byrd said it’s no coincidence that he is so involved in the campaign.
“This year with the 50th anniversary of Selma,” and his own family connection to the school, “there’s something special about this, historical and personal. …
“I applaud the Student Government Association for its support of this effort,” he said. “It sent a strong message that I have been hoping the university’s administration will send for quite some time: Terrapins should not honor bigotry and racial discrimination.
“Hopefully the administration and the Board of Regents will take note and meaningfully echo our sentiments on this issue.”