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ELJAZZAR: U.Va. must rename Alderman Library

The Board of Visitors must consider the damage done by keeping Alderman’s legacy alive

<p>Alderman’s name undermines the projects that the University has already undertaken in its attempts to rectify its racist past. &nbsp;</p>

Alderman’s name undermines the projects that the University has already undertaken in its attempts to rectify its racist past.  

The completion of Alderman Library’s renovation project has revived library life at the University. Its proximity to the Corner and Central Grounds, the opening of Saxby’s cafe and five floors of beautiful study spaces have combined to create an attractive hub for the University community. Now that Alderman has come to the forefront of student life, students must reconsider Edwin Alderman’s legacy. Alderman was a staunch eugenicist  — a proponent of an immoral pseudoscience that argued for the genetic superiority of white Europeans over non-white people. The very goal, and reality, of eugenics was to enact concrete legislation that enshrined these racist conclusions. The library, as his living legacy, forces students to pay homage to this evil ideology every time we say the name. In memorializing Alderman’s name, we are upholding the values to which we no longer institutionally ascribe. Alderman library opened in 1938, a time when his name perhaps did reflect ideals of the time. But we have moved past those values. Our namesakes should reflect the values of our time. Therefore, the library must be renamed, not only to properly honor the University’s history, but also to reflect our changing values.  

Calls to rename Alderman Library are not new, but it was not until last semester that this movement caught the attention of the Board of Visitors — the body with the power to make such a change. With Alderman’s reopening looming, the Board was forced to reckon with the library's controversial namesake. Despite receiving a formal recommendation to adopt a new name ahead of their meetings in September 2023, the Board voted in December to table the issue until March. The Board’s decision to revisit the subject demonstrates their lack of concern for the issue at hand. But this issue is not going away — as long as the library hangs on to Alderman’s name, the harmful ideas he stood for persist. Further, it represents a continual administrative betrayal of the values the University claims to espouse. In short, the Board’s paradoxical balancing act — claiming integrity and collaboration as core values while continuously elevating an eugenicist — is tenuous and disingenuous at best. 

Whether consciously or not, whenever a student mentions or is in the presence of the library, they inadvertently pay homage to an eugenicist. We name buildings after people we intend to honor. By honoring a man who stood for dangerous and outdated values, we contradict the very purpose of the building. Libraries were built on the premise of facilitating learning, growth and engagement in an effort to shape the knowledge of future generations. For this reason, Alderman Library’s reopening has ultimately tied Alderman’s name to student education, effectively concealing his controversial and ugly past. Instead of recognizing Alderman for the damage he did, the new library buries the harsh truth by perverting his harmful legacy into something worth memorializing.

Changing the library’s name may appear to be an aesthetic change that will have no tangible impact. However, aesthetic changes, just like tangible initiatives, are a manifestation of our values. We cannot move towards a more inclusive environment until we dismantle the visible legacy of racist figures in the University landscape by reevaluating what we commemorate. Clearly, renaming Alderman Library will not solve discrimination and prejudice overnight. But we must uphold our institution’s promises to take on our complicated history by critically evaluating the landscape which continues to ignore this history. In doing so, we have the opportunity to elevate figures besides Alderman that are as impactful to the University’s history and more in accordance with our present values.

It is imperative that the structures that we build and the figures we celebrate are reflective of our values today and the future we want to build for the University. A part of the proposal before the Board is to replace Alderman's name with President Edgar Shannon’s name. Shannon  is most notable for expanding educational opportunities for women and African Americans, and for engaging in protests against the war in Vietnam across the University. He has done more to shape the tenets we stand for today than any other University president. While Alderman may have been the first president, Shannon was a significant figure in taking concrete strides towards inclusive education at the University. Other than being an inaugural figure at the University, Alderman possesses little honorable warrant for commemoration.

Moreover, renaming buildings and in other ways altering the landscape to better reflect our community values is nothing new at the University. For example, in 2016, the University established the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, a stark architectural memorial that acknowledges the work of enslaved laborers in constructing the University. This action represents a positive change to the physical landscape. Similarly, that same year, in what constitutes a more abstract change, the University renamed Jordan Hall to Pinn Hall. The original namesake was Dean Harvey Jordan who was the former Dean of Medicine at the University and was a known eugenist. Jordan was a man, much like Alderman, who actively opposed the values we stand for today. Just as the University has done in the past, it must continue to update our landscape to ensure that our present values are accurately represented in the symbolism we select. 

Alderman’s name undermines the projects that the University has already undertaken in its attempts to rectify its racist past. While renaming the library is a necessary step forward, we must not forget our history, no matter how painful. In order to ensure that we never forget the lessons we learned from the past, the University should install a plaque inside a renamed Alderman Library explaining why the building was renamed. In learning from our past mistakes instead of venerating them, we uphold our commitment to expanding education and cultivating a community in which everyone can thrive. As such, the Board has a moral imperative and an educational obligation to rename Alderman to Shannon this March in order to promote inclusion and to firmly oppose a history of racism and exclusion. 

Farah Eljazzar is an opinion columnist who writes about identity and culture for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the author alone. 


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