UNT spokesperson resigns after saying petition to name residence hall after a woman or person of color is ‘reverse racism’

UNT spokesperson resigns after saying petition to name residence hall after a woman or person of color is ‘reverse racism’

February 16
18:49 2018

UNT spokesperson Nancy Kolsti has resigned for personal reasons, according to UNT spokesperson Julie Payne.

Kolsti recently came under fire after calling a petition to name the new residence hall after a person of color and/or a woman “a form of reverse racism,” in an email Kolsti sent last week to Student Government Association (SGA) Senator Misaki Collins.

Collins made the petition public via Twitter on Feb. 6. As of Wednesday, the petition has reached 1,000 signatures.

“We were touting diversity on our campus but then I started realizing through the [campus] tours that none of the buildings are really named after a person of color or a woman,” Collins said. “I knew there had to be a change.”

Collins created the petition because none of the buildings that make up UNT in Denton are named after a person of color. The only buildings on campus named after women are the Murchison Performing Arts Center and residence hall Clark Hall.

In her email to Collins, Kolsti said insisting the new residence hall be named after a woman or person of color “[imposes] a quota system, and, to me, that is a form of reverse racism.”

Kolsti said there could be other individuals deserving of having a hall named after them, and “not individuals who are chosen to fill a quota system that you think the university should have because you feel that it is important ‘to promote diversity in every aspect of the student experience.’”

Kolsti said it is “very possible that the new residence hall will not be named after any person, like Victory Hall, Legends Hall and Honors Hall.”

It is also possible it will be named after a donor. Kolsti told Collins she “must realize that there are many longtime UNT administrators who are deserving of the honor.”

In a statement released by Collins on Friday via Twitter, she said “the argument of reverse racism, is in itself, racist” and that Kolsti’s email shows why she believes it is important for the UNT community to promote representation.

“The university believes that the naming of our buildings and how our campus appears are very much a part of the student experience and should reflect the core values we hold dear,” UNT spokesperson Kelley Reese said regarding Kolsti’s email.

Reese said Kolsti was “expressing her views as a private citizen and not speaking in her capacity as a UNT employee” and that honoring diversity is one of UNT’s most important values.

”We encourage our students to take an active role in helping to shape the university and applaud the actions of our Student Government to petition for values in which they believe,” Reese said.

In the petition, Collins stated “there are over 160 buildings that make up the University of North Texas,” however she said she changed that number in the resolution to 87 so it would only include buildings students go to frequently and not sheds and storage buildings associated with UNT. Out of those 87 buildings, 27 are named after people.

“The intention of this petition is to help honor people who otherwise maybe would not be even considered,” Collins said in an interview on Tuesday when asked if she has received negative feedback.

English sophomore Gianna English said she does not believe Collins’ petition is a form of reverse racism.

“When one culture has already been represented plenty in past years, it’s not reverse racism to include other people in that representation.”

While the petition did not begin as an SGA matter, Collins submitted a resolution supported by 13 other senators to submit to university stakeholders such as the Board of Regents, President Neal Smatresk and Vice President of Student Affairs Elizabeth With. It was read at the Senate meeting Wednesday. The Senate will vote on the resolution on Feb. 28.

“This is the most [amount of] cosponsors we’ve had in a long time [for a resolution],” Collins said. “It’s good to see that there’s more senators in favor.”

The resolution asks that the university “strongly considers a significant person of the UNT community that identifies as a person of color and/or a woman.”

If the Senate votes to pass it, the resolution will be sent to the university stakeholders along with the names of people who signed the petition.

Senator Luis Avila said he supports the resolution because if the new residence hall is named after a person of color and/or woman, it would begin a new path to the diversity UNT claims.

“Names do matter,” Avila said. “Names of buildings encourage our spirit.”

Senator Marcel Akhame hopes the university will take this petition into consideration.

“UNT is a diverse institution and it’s important that our buildings represent that,” Akhame said.

Sociology sophomore Tariq Otuemhobe said this petition is about empowering each other.

“Once we help everybody get on the same wavelength, then we will be lightyears ahead of where we are now,” Otuemhobe said.

The petition also asks for names of people that should be honored with the new residence hall. Some suggested figures from the UNT community include the first black undergraduate student Irma E.L. Sephas, Joe Atkins who helped desegregate UNT by filing a lawsuit with the NAACP and the first and only female president of UNT Gretchen M. Bataille.

“I can’t even name them all because there’s been so many suggestions,” Collins said. “It’s been really inspiring to just read about the history because you never hear about these people.”

Another suggestion Collins brought up is Beulah Harriss, the first female hired into the UNT athletics department.

A previous building called the Harriss Gym was named after Harriss. It was the site of women’s athletic events and many on-campus social events from the 1920s to mid-1950s. It was torn down in 1956 to make room for the Hurley Administration Building (named after UNT’s longest-serving president Alfred H. Hurley), according to the plaque commemorating the Harriss Gym.

“Her legacy being applied and the change [in name] shows our tendency to forget legendary people of color and women who have done amazing things in our community,” Avila said.

The plaque was unveiled on March 14, 2017 and sits at the southwest corner of the Hurley Administration Building.

UNT Policy Chapter 9 allows the university to name buildings after people through either gift-related naming, corporate naming, general provisions or honorific naming. The name must be approved by the Board of Regents.

For gift-related naming, a person must donate “no less than 33 percent of the original construction cost, renovation cost, or current value of the property.”

For honorific naming, the person’s exhibited values must be consistent with the university’s mission and vision, they must withhold an established relationship with the university and have made a contribution “measurably to the good of society.”

Criminal justice sophomore Cristian Jimenez said buildings should be named after people who have made a positive impact to the UNT community, regardless of race or gender.

“I think UNT does an excellent job of not discriminating against race [and] ethnicity and just being super inclusive in general,” music education freshman Lincoln Ripley said. “[It’s] one of the reasons I decided to come here, so it’s kind of pointless to make a big deal out of that request in my opinion.”

However, the petition and resolution do not have final say on the name of the building.

“This [petition] is just for them to consider,” Collins said. “We just really want to influence the decision.”

Collins’ petition closes Feb. 28.

About Author

Zaira Perez

Zaira Perez

Senior News Writer

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3 Comments

  1. Allen
    Allen February 17, 05:23

    Anytime you intentionally exclude anyone due to skin color, sex, religion or sexual preferences, it most definitely IS due to bigotry and has absolutely no place on our campus

    Reply to this comment
  2. Disappointed Alum
    Disappointed Alum February 17, 09:51

    As a double alumnus of UNT (B.A. ’98, M.A. ’04) it is sad and shameful that someone in the job of UNT spokesperson would react to a student petition this way, and use a ridiculous and politically-biased phrase like “reverse racism” to frame the request. Women and persons of color make up a large number of faculty, staff, students, and alumni of UNT. Let’s not forget this school was founded as a teacher’s college, one that mostly taught women to be those teachers. To suggest it would be discriminatory to honor what makes up 50-70% of UNT’s historical and present community is offensive. To further suggest UNT can only name new buildings after wealthy donors (who often happen to be white men) is misleading and shameful.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Lindalydiatn-tx
    Lindalydiatn-tx February 17, 12:27

    Considering the ethic make-up of UNT, it would be progressive, thoughtful, kind and correct to name a structure after a person of color. Was it reverse discrimination when we named our buildings after Anglos only or just racist?

    I think the persons we can document that fosterd the diversity at UNT were Joe Atkins and Juanita Craft. The student population of color was ushered in by these individuals.

    Let us look at this moment as a time to fulfill the verbiage of our pledge of allegiance on the campus of UNT.

    Reply to this comment

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