Action at a SUNY New Paltz College Council meeting held March 6 shunts the names of a handful of Huguenot settlers to this area from the dorms they now adorn to a “contemplative space” where their deeds and misdeeds may be considered and judged today, presuming that state university officials agree with the change to new names which have now been officially selected. This marks an important point in a process started in 2017, during which a great many of campus community members spoke about how living in buildings named for slave owners made them feel. Not every descendant of those dozen European patriarchs believes enough was done to seek their input in addition to that of present students and faculty members, and one member of the College Council resigned after it was decided to take the names Hasbrouck, Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois and LeFevre from a dining hall and five dormitories. The dining hall shall be rebranded Peregrine, with the dorms becoming Shawangunk, Awosting, Minnewaska, Mohonk and Ashokan.
College Council action was slower than many in the campus community wanted. President Donald Christian wanted members to vote first on removing the old names, then consider new names at a later meeting. After hearing from students and a smattering of faculty members in November, council member Ronald Law asked for more time before voting on the first part. The only African American appointed to the council by the governor — student N’Della Seque having been selected instead by her peers — Law was conflicted because he was reminded of arguments used in a bid to rename Shango Hall in the 1970s, when he was student body president. In February, it was Law’s vote which made the removal possible, but he again asked for time before deciding on the new names.
The urgency is based on a desire to have new names for the new school year, a feat which will require clearing more bureaucratic hurdles. While two votes were taken, a single resolution will be forwarded to trustees of the state university system, wherein the final approval lies. It’s expected to first be referred to a committee and then voted on by all the trustees. In the meantime, work has begun to update campus maps and databases and the like to ensure a smooth transition once the change is official. For now, the historic names remain.
Present-day Hasbroucks react
While participation in some affected quarters was quite high for a process intended to be respectful of the feelings of students, Roland and Kathleen Hasbrouck found that the opinions of others in the community were glossed over, and that people who have one of those six family names have been treated with disrespect. Roland, a descendant of the Jean Hasbrouck for whom the village park is named, took umbrage at a New Paltz Oracle headline which read, “Hasbrouck Has Been.” Kathleen, an alumna of SUNY New Paltz, thinks any serious effort to engage with former students should have involved at least a mailing.
The six buildings were erected and named in the 1960s. While the connection to slavery has been raised in the past, no action was taken because it was not deemed appropriate to strip the names of important families off those buildings because of the actions of their patriarchs. When deeper research was started in 2017, it was determined that the names were indeed intended to honor most of the 12 Huguenot men listed in the original land patent: Louis, Isaac and Abraham DuBois; Anton Crispell; Simon and Andres LeFevre; Jean and Abraham Hasbrouck; Christian Deyo; and Louis Bevier. Hugo Freer, the twelfth, never had a dorm or dining hall named for him on campus.
“I didn’t think it would get much traction,” Roland Hasbrouck said of the most recent push to change the names.
Roland and Kathleen Hasbrouck wonder about how much effort was taken to contact stakeholders beyond the current campus community. Kathleen, who receives all the e-mails sent to alumnae, never saw the survey which was sent out. “If it had been in the mail, I would have noticed that and paid more attention to it,” she said; she imagines that she’s not the only one who likely deleted the e-mail simply because the volume of e-mail most people receive makes it all but impossible to review each one.
Campus officials also made contact with a representative of Historic Huguenot Street to help solicit feedback from family members, but these Hasbroucks think that more should have been done given that the decision will have impacts well beyond the campus boundaries. Elected officials such as the mayor could have — should have, they feel — offered to help with the outreach efforts. The village “is allegedly a separate entity,” noted Roland, “but the first picture you see on the [college] web site is of students in front of the stone houses” on Huguenot Street, where his ancestors settled.
“I’m not defending slavery,” Roland said, but that’s actually central to his point, that a reason members of these families contributed as much as they did to the college and wider community was in an effort to redeem their names from that heinous act, which in the 17th century was considered acceptable. The buildings were named for individuals, it’s true, but only because the descendants of those individuals worked to maintain and preserve the college and more through succeeding generations. That’s why the story of Abraham Bruyn Hasbrouck representing Sojourner Truth in court resonates with him. Truth’s son Peter was illegally sold out of state during a time when slaves were gradually being freed in New York, and with the help of that Hasbrouck she became the first black woman to beat a white man in court. To Roland Hasbrouck, the reason for that pro bono defense was because Abraham Bruyn Hasbrouck “knew slavery was wrong” and was ashamed his ancestors had participated in the institution.
The result of the renaming decision, Roland feels, is to redefine his and other families solely by the fact of enslavement, which he feels is a gross distortion of history. History professors on campus disagree, writing last month, “Changing the name of buildings does not ‘erase the past,’ but rather continues the practice of memorializing the past in conversation with the present.” Kathleen works in higher education, and she and her husband imagine that faculty members felt a considerable amount of pressure to come up with a response to fit the present narrative. Roland has no objection to slavery being part of the conversation, but plans to create a “contemplative space” to recognize the history of the buildings falls flat because “the last word will be that they were slave owners,” when the facts that “they didn’t know any better” and their descendants largely decried the practice won’t be given the weight he feels they deserve.
Where history professors talk about a conversation between past and present, these two present-day Hasbroucks see their ancestors’ acts judged solely by 21st-century standards, with little or no historical context at all. To Roland, “The contributions of these families far outweighs the blemish of tainted history.” The comments President Christian has made tying the names to racism he finds “hurtful,” as it suggests he and all members of his family must be racist simply by sharing a name. “I understand the sensitivity of the topic, but redefining history in your own image is not the answer.”
All acts and decisions are eventually judged through the lens of history, and these Hasbroucks believe that eventually the judgement of history on this renaming will deem it a mistake. Roland noted, “We should preserve history, not hide it,” even when it includes things about which modern people feel no reason to be proud. He added, “I’m glad I didn’t have to explain this to my dad,” who died before this issue emerged.
New names for the Hasbrouck Complex buildings
The SUNY New Paltz College Council unanimously passed a resolution to assign new names to Hasbrouck Complex buildings. The next steps of this process will include the development of a single resolution to remove current names and assign new ones to these buildings, which will go to the SUNY Board of Trustees for review.
“We will make every effort to bring this matter to the board as early as possible, hopefully this spring,” President Donald Christian said.
The approved names, local geographic significance, and origin, are:
This hall is named for the Shawangunk Ridge visible from campus. The meaning is translated from the local indigenous Munsee Lenape as “in the smoky air.”
Named after one of the “sky” lakes on the Shawangunk Ridge, “Awosting” is adapted from the Native American (Munsee) word, Aiaskawosting, “place of grassy hills.”
Named after another sky lake on the Ridge, “Minnewaska” derives from the combination of two Dakota or Sioux words, mini or mine (for many) and washta or waska (for water).
Named after another sky lake on the Ridge adjacent to Mohonk Mountain House, a 150-year old resort owned by the Smiley family. “Mohonk” is derived from the Delaware Indian word Mogonck, which some believe to mean “lake in the sky.”
This name is derived from an Iroquois word for “place of fish.” From 1967-2008 the Ashokan Field Campus, an outdoor education, conference and retreat center located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, was part of SUNY New Paltz. It is now the Ashokan Center operated by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, folk musicians who in 1982 wrote and composed “Ashokan Farewell,” a farewell waltz featured in the PBS miniseries “The Civil War,” produced by Ken Burns. Ashokan is also the name of the nearby reservoir that supplies water to New York City.
Peregrine Dining Hall
Named for the Peregrine falcons that soar above the Ridge and the local sky lakes. The population of these birds has rebounded after facing near-extinction; thus the Peregrine has local significance as a symbol of resiliency and hope. Peregrine also refers to a wanderer from foreign lands, and our campus has always welcomed students regardless of their origins.