Report for Dickinson & Slavery Reaches Community


The final report for the Dickinson & Slavery initiative is now being distributed to the wider Dickinson College community.  The 35-page report recommends “a deliberative process” for improving the commemoration of the college’s ties to slavery and anti-slavery, including consideration for renaming some buildings on campus that have been honoring former slaveholders.  The President’s Commission on Inclusivity endorsed this report in October 2019.  Today, December 13, 2019, Provost Neil Weissman forwarded this information by email to the entire community and announced that President Margee Ensign has authorized the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee on Renaming that can help finalize proposals for building renaming and also for other possible revisions in campus commemoration regarding slavery and anti-slavery that could be addressed by the Dickinson Board of Trustees in 2020.


  • The Dickinson & Slavery report, authored by House Divided Project Matthew Pinsker and supported by a team of student researchers, including Sarah Aillon, ’19, Amanda Donoghue, ’19, Sarah Goldberg, ’18, Frank Kline, ’18, Rachel Morgan, ’18, Rebecca Stout, ’19, Naji Thompson, ’19, Sam Weisman, ’18, and Cooper Wingert, ’20 is now available for review at the Dickinson & Slavery website. The online space also includes a platform for public comments.


  • The Dickinson & Slavery initiative began out of a class on American Slavery that met in fall semester 2017 (History 311, “American Slavery” with Prof. Pinsker) and accelerated in academic year 2018-19 under the direction of the House Divided Project with the launching of a website, the opening of a permanent exhibit in spring 2019 at the House Divided studio (61 N. West Street) and a series of public events.


  • The report identifies at least seven former slaveholders who are currently being honored on campus with forms of commemoration (such as statues or building names) but separates them into two categories:  four slaveholders who eventually emancipated their own slaves and three (John Armstrong, Thomas Cooper, and John Montgomery) who never renounced slaveholding.  These last figures were not always publicly commemorated on campus. Armstrong and Cooper residential halls only received their names in the 1990s.  Montgomery Hall (currently home to the Theatre & Dance Department) received its name during the 1950s.  One of the Key Recommendations of the report (summarized on p. 30) suggests that the college should proceed with a discussion about the renaming of Armstrong, Cooper and Montgomery halls during academic year 2019-20.


  • The report also identifies several formerly enslaved people who were influential employees (and sometimes permanent residents) at Dickinson College during the nineteenth century and who deserve consideration for building naming honors.  These figures include Noah Pinkney, a former slave and Union army veteran who served food to the students for decades.  Pinkney was so popular  that he was honored with a plaque on East College gate during the 1950s.  Henry Spradley, another former slave and Union army veteran, was employed for years as a college janitor.  Dickinson cancelled classes to host Spradley’s memorial service in the 1890s.  And finally, there was Robert Young, the longest serving employee of the college (until recently), a former slave who worked for over forty years as a domestic servant, janitor, and campus policeman.  Young is now best known, however, for initially helping to integrate the school in the 1880s by insisting in the face of delays and some objections that his son get admitted as the community’s first African American student.  


To President’s Staff:

The House Divided Project began conversations with members of our community about the college’s historical ties to both slavery and anti-slavery during the 2018-2019 academic year. Many faculty and students worked hard to launch the Dickinson & Slavery website and launch the permanent exhibit, “Dickinson & Slavery.” Shortly thereafter, Student Senate also formally recommended that Dickinson College consider renaming Cooper Hall Dorm. Through these avenues this topic has garnished a substantial foothold within the Dickinson community regarding the importance of looking at the historical significance behind the names of campus buildings.

The 2019 report “Dickinson & Slavery” (attached) provides convincing arguments for renaming Montgomery, Cooper and Armstrong Halls, including that the namesakes had limited contributions to our community and their treatment of enslaved individuals and long-lasting views on slavery. This report includes recommendations for possible namesakes and their historical connections to the Dickinson community.

The President’s Commission on Inclusivity strongly recommends that:

The College rename these buildings and that the new namesakes be chosen from the recommendations put forward in the aforementioned report. The College create a deliberative process for named commemorations by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. This process would include commemorating facilities and other honorifics, such as scholarships, endowed chairs, and lectureships. The deliberative process include recognizing the contributions to the Dickinson community by those historically marginalized as a way to acknowledge the diversity of our community and to provide a clear indication of our commitment to inclusivity. Because history is dynamic, the process of naming/renaming should be an educative one, placing these naming/renaming actions into historical context.

Since substantial discussion within the community has taken place about Montgomery, Cooper and Armstrong Halls, we feel that the college could proceed forward with renaming these buildings prior to the finalization of the deliberative process.

Sam Brandauer & Brenda Bretz, Co-Chairs

On Behalf of the President’s Commission on Inclusivity



To the Campus Community,

The House Divided Project has recently released a report entitled Dickinson & Slavery which we encourage members of our community to read and reflect upon in the coming days. This report is one of the outcomes of faculty and student research and community conversations which began in 2017 to explore the college’s ties to both slavery and anti-slavery. Other outcomes of this project include the Dickinson & Slavery website and a permanent exhibit housed at the House Divided studio (61 N. West Street).

Included in the report are several recommendations for the college to consider including the renaming of three campus buildings due to the namesakes’ ties to slavery. The report and its recommendations have been endorsed by the President’s Commission on Inclusivity and by President Ensign and her senior leadership team. As a result, President Ensign has asked that a college-wide ad hoc committee now be formed to consider the specific recommendations for final endorsement by the Board of Trustees, potentially at the board’s midwinter meeting, January 30-February 1, 2020. This committee, listed below, will be chaired by Matt Pinsker and Young Alumni Trustee Toni Ortega ’18. Committee members include a wide representation of the campus community including faculty, staff, students and trustees.

Everyone from the community, however, is invited to comment on the report at the link included above, and we certainly encourage all Dickinsonians to continue holding thoughtful discussions about this important subject. Thank you for your participation. If you have any questions or would like more information about this report, please feel free to be in touch with Matt Pinsker (

Neil Weissman, Provost & Dean

Matthew Pinsker, Director, House Divided Project

Ad Hoc Committee on Renaming

Matthew Pinsker, Professor of History and Director, House Divided Project
Tonian Ortega ’18, Young Alumni Trustee


Kaliph Brown ’20
Say Burgin, assistant professor of history
Brian Falck, associate vice president of college advancement
Karen Neely Faryniak ’86, chief of staff & secretary of the college
Jim Gerencser ’93, college archivist
Angie Harris, associate dean of students
Kendall Isaac, general counsel
Dana Marecheau ’20
Albert Masland ’79, trustee & president of the Alumni Council
Connie McNamara, vice president of marketing and communications
John Staruh, housekeeper, facilities management
Cooper Wingert ’20

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One Comment

  1. Robert D. Kaplan (Class of 1958)

    I well understand the concern that the buildings named for unrepentant slave holders Armstrong, Cooper and Montgomery appear to – and do – honor these reprehensible individuals. However, I suggest that a more effective teaching/learning tool would be for plaques that explain this history to be placed at the sites.

    If the buildings are simply renamed, the history would just disappear. Putting up explanatory plaques would demonstrate that the college acknowledges its past avoidance of thinking about slavery. Such plaques would serve as a Dickinson “mea culpa” and be a continuing lesson in a history that should never be forgotten.

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