Slater Museum Renaming Committee conducts first review meeting

By Mercer Stauch

University of Puget Sound’s review committee tasked with considering the renaming of the Slater Natural History Museum met for the first time on January 25 to begin their process. Guided by the University’s renaming policy put into effect February 25, 2022, the committee’s meeting comes three and a half years after Grace Eberhardt ‘20 and a few faculty members petitioned President Isiaah Crawford to have the museum’s name changed to no longer honor James Slater, a former Puget Sound professor who taught courses in eugenics at the University.

The committee is composed of eleven students, faculty members, and community leaders, and will “evaluate the request to remove the Slater name from the museum, with the intent to hear from many voices and perspectives to fully understand the history of the name and its impact before submitting a final recommendation to the Office of the President in April 2023” according to a message from the President last December.

Professor Stacey Weiss and Albert Chang-Yoo ‘25, both council members, emphasized the importance of confidentiality in the council’s process.

“The replacement name proposed by Grace Eberhardt in her article was ‘The Puget Sound Museum of Natural History’” Chang-Yoo said. He added that Wednesday’s meeting “was introductory and an overview of procedures.”

Professor Weiss said the council “will be following established guidelines carefully as we serve in our role as the first review committee on campus.” The guidelines, which can be found on the University’s website, state “A University Building or University Space name shall be removed only upon the presentation and/or discovery of strong and noteworthy evidence that compellingly demonstrates retaining the name is harmful to its mission and inclusiveness and/or inconsistent with the university’s integrity.” In the case of the Slater Museum, this evidence may include the documented history of James Slater’s eugenics teaching, which included a course called “Eugenics,” which was required for all Biology majors and minors in the late 1930s. 

Documents compiled for a symposium on “The History of Eugenics at Puget Sound and Beyond” now constitute a website detailing what is known of James Slater’s teaching content. They include terms and exam questions that illustrate ideologies that the renaming council may determine “no longer align with our values as an institution.”

Eugenics was taught in universities across the United States in the early twentieth century and “was considered an important part of a cutting-edge Biology curriculum at most undergraduate colleges.” According to the symposium exhibit, “eugenics inevitably entailed people making value judgments about individuals and groups.” The renaming committee’s role in the following months is to consider what modern policies will be adopted to contend with its role in the University of Puget Sound’s past.

The museum poses a question that the committee will have to answer: “Should we continue to commemorate someone who taught a subject now known to have been pervaded with classist, ableist and racist ideas that are in conflict with Puget Sound’s values?”