FSU prioritizes change to controversial named symbols on campus

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By: Erika Fernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
February 7, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Across the nation, colleges are renaming buildings and removing statues that honor former slave owners and KKK members.

University of North Carolina, Yale and Oregon have changed the names or removed monuments of the most controversial buildings on their campuses.

Now, Florida State might be moving in the same direction. President John Thrasher has urged the President's Advisory Panel on University Names and Recognitions to make three spots on campus a priority.

“Their voices are being heard," President Thrasher said.

It's a message of vindication, and one group says it's long overdue.

"This issue has been at the forefront for us and members of our community for a while," said former FSU Law School student, Matthew Williams.

Here in Tallahassee, buildings like B.K. Roberts Hall are causing a rift between the community and the university.

B.K. Roberts was a Florida Chief Justice who supported the denial of admission of a black man into the University of Florida College of Law.

"It’s frustrating knowing that somebody who was filled with so much hate, that they're being recognized on a daily basis," Williams said.

Williams graduated from FSU College of Law five years ago. He's just one voice that wants Roberts' and other names removed, such as Francis Eppes, a local slave owner and Thomas Jefferson’s grandson.

In the past, some voiced their message of support.

"While we deplore slavery, he's really the reason we have a Florida State University in Tallahassee," an FSU student said of Eppes.

Williams said it’s pushed him to inspire change.

"It actually encouraged me to fight harder,” Williams said.

"I’d like to ask you to prioritize the B.K. Roberts Hall, Eppes Hall, and the Eppes statue as you continue your work," President Thrasher said.

President Thrasher formed a panel last fall of committee members with diverse backgrounds. At monthly meetings, many are demanding action.

"No one asked the black people what they thought when they were putting B.K. Roberts' name on it," said local attorney and former FSU Law School student, Danni Vogt.

Vogt is retired now, but said he's never stopped fighting for what's right.

"The whole thing won't be resolved until, one way or another, it's renamed for a more appropriate person," Vogt said.

But change won't be easy.

“A lot of those rights are held back by the state of Florida," said Carolyn Egan, General Counsel for FSU.

FSU doesn't own the property it sits on, or B.K. Roberts Hall. The state does. That means the process to rename it is quite complex.

"The only way to undo a legislative naming would be a subsequent legislative action," Egan said.

Egan presented information to the panel regarding the legislation. She said one of the options for the university could be to team up with university lobbyists to get a bill filed for next year's session, if they decide to rename and repeal the buildings and statue.

"We are the ones who are emotionally attached to it in one way or another, but we don't have much control over the resolution," Egan said.

It’s a resolution the community said is long overdue.

"FSU Law School, it keeps rising in the national rankings, but this issue is keeping it from being all it can be," Vogt said.

The renaming panel has not issued any comment on the recommendations, but they are discussing open forum meetings for the Tallahassee community to give their input.

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