Justice at Last in the Slocum Scandal

At the end of Block 6, the Colorado College Communications Office sent out an email on behalf of the Colorado College Board of Trustees announcing their unanimous decision “to rescind the honorary degree bestowed on [William Slocum] in 1917 and has ordered the immediate removal of his name from the residence hall and commons building on the corner of Nevada and Cache la Poudre.”

Photo by Kochi Nakajima

For a period of one to two years, the facilities will be known as South Hall and South Commons. The board will then “initiate a naming process and solicit input from the community for a new name for the building.” According to President Jill Tiefenthaler, the interim period is to “put some distance between” the rescinding of his honors and the renaming process instead of conflating the process in one fell swoop.

“Not everyone would maybe think that it’s the greatest honor to be named after a building after from which Slocum’s name had been removed,” Tiefenthaler commented. “And so people thought a little distance from the decision might be a good idea.”

The Board also wanted to make sure not to erase Slocum from CC’s history, as he did a great deal in advancing the reputation of the college in his time as president. “Well on a positive note, President Slocum significantly increased the national reputation of the college, increased the endowment, increased the size of the student body, recruited many very outstanding and well known faculty to the college,” Tiefenthaler explained. Additionally, Slocum facilitated the construction of 10 or so buildings on campus, improved housing, and helped the college out of some significant financial issues that preceded his term.

“So, historians, I think would say initially, that he had a big role in almost saving this sort of new college that had just started,” said Tiefenthaler. “But then of course, because of his actions and his sexual assault and harassment—and the ensuing scandal that resulted from his departure, and the departure of a lot of faculty—it almost undid some of those great accomplishments.”

In light of this, a committee was formed to delineate how best to weigh the actions of the college’s approach going forward. Associate Professor of Psychology Tricia Waters is chairing the committee, and Dean of Students Mike Edmunds made recommendations for the students to serve on it, with final recommendations to be sent to Tiefenthaler by June 15.

In the board’s letter, some of the duties of the committee were explained as to “recommend ways to represent his full legacy on campus. This should include considering the appropriate placement of his portrait that currently hangs in Palmer Hall. Consistent with our mission and values, the college should neither ignore his accomplishments nor his disturbing flaws.”

Other questions listed on the charge created to guide the process include; “How should the college address the change in name of the facilities at the corner of Nevada and Cache la Poudre to South Hall/South Commons? Shall a placard or other marker be placed inside the residence hall and commons to explain the reason for the name change? If so, what is the message on the placard? How should the fact that Slocum’s honorary degree was rescinded be noted?”

“Should the portrait of President Slocum currently hanging in Palmer Hall be relocated? If so, where would be an appropriate placement of this portrait? Should the reason for its removal be noted?”

“How should President Slocum’s legacy be represented in other places that are not honorific? For example, a second portrait of Slocum currently hangs on the second floor of Spencer Center outside the President’s Office. Given its context within a chronological progression of presidents, should this portrait remain in its current placement?”

Current membership of the committee stands as Tricia Waters (chair), associate professor of psychology; Susan Ashley, professor of history; Michael Grace, professor of music; Nadia Guessous, Assistant Professor of Feminist & Gender Studies; Paul Buckley, Assistant Vice President Director of the Butler Center; George Eckhardt, campus planner; Jerome DeHerrera, trustee; and students Ariel Filion, Noah Hirshorn, and Caleigh Cassidy.

A final concern was that, because South Hall and Commons is only an interim name, it may not be adopted by students on campus. “It will be hard for people because it’s been Slocum hall for 60 years,” admitted Tiefenthaler. “But I’m pleased to hear that many students already use the term South Hall on campus and I think given that faculty, students, and staff and the overwhelming majority of alumni that I have heard from have supported the Board’s decision that hopefully people will be conscious of trying to change the name.”

“Because the board at the time [1917] tried to sweep it under the rug, people weren’t really aware of all the seriousness of his behavior until, well, the climate obviously of the ‘me too’ movement, but also just kind of bringing all of the recent research done by professor Dunn (2010)”; Tiefenthaler continued. “I had never seen that article nor had our Board members until Jessy Randall reignited the conversation as part of the archives and her archival research in the fall.”

Once the information was made more public within the community, the Board made sure to act upon it, stating, “Such behavior was reprehensible and is in direct conflict with the mission and values of Colorado College. Sexual harassment are  unacceptable today, and were unacceptable in Slocum’s time. Such behavior is in direct conflict with our mission and values, and must neither be tolerated nor overlooked.”

Furthermore, “We are grateful to Professor Joe Dunn of Converse College, Professor Robert Loevy, Jessy Randall, and the late Professor John Fauvel, for providing important information on this matter, and members of the CC community for the care they have taken in bringing this issue forward.”

“I’d say it’s no surprise that when hundreds of CC faculty, students, staff, and alumni ask for something, the Board of Trustees listens,” Randall stated in response. “I’m terrifically pleased to know that after more than a hundred years, the women who spoke against Slocum got heard in a way they didn’t the first time around. I’m excited to find out what the new name will be!”

Thank you to the Board and all campus community members involved in spurring action in a new age of condemnation for such despicable behavior and moving forward in Colorado College history.

Emily Kressley

Emily Kressley

Emily, class of 2020, is an environmental policy major originally from Essex, Conn. While she is drawn to Colorado for its mountains and skiing, she has found strong communities within the CC Cutthroat rugby team, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and, of course, The Catalyst staff.

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