Poll shows overwhelming support for NOT renaming James Madison University, despite our founder’s slave-owning past

We asked if JMU should be renamed and oh boy did y’all answer

Last week, I asked students if James Madison University should be renamed due to James Madison’s slave-owning past. A high school student in Wisconsin has been petitioning to change the name of James Madison High School, and brought up a lot of issues I thought were relevant to JMU students as well. Nearly three thousand JMU students responded, and the results are in.

91 percent of JMU students don’t want to change the name! 

91 percent of students voted to keep the name. Five percent voted to change. Four percent weren’t sure.

More interesting than the quantitative results, though, are the comments that people left. The very idea of changing the name of our school enraged a lot of students; over half of the 2,675 comments on the survey were some variation of “kill yourself”, “transfer”, “you’re a dumb libtard”, “n****r lover”, “cuck” and other cruel insults. But the rest of the comments were very interesting and constructive! Let’s see what JMU students have to say.

“I think a name change would be great, but sadly it probably won’t happen. The fact that most of the white students at our school don’t even recognize racism as an issue really shows how the majority of JMU’s students don’t care about people of color.”

“James Madison owned slaves, like any man with money did in his lifetime. I’m white, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to know your ancestors were likely enslaved people. But renaming the school because or namesake owned slaves would be like sweeping what he did under the rug. Having his name in the title of the university forces us to remember. If we forget we let history repeat itself.”

“Everyone has aspects of their personality that is flawed. If we focus on the negatives, than there will never be anyone to look up to or name a college after. Yes slavery is absolutely terrible. But our founding fathers saw owning slaves like millennials treat owning a smart phone. Is that correct and moral? No. But it is part of our history and part of the society of the time. James Madison is looked up to for being an influential man who helped shape our country. That should be the focus.”

“One of the most relevant concepts learned in the required social science courses at any university is the importance of context in social, economic, and personal interactions. Owning slaves was an economic reality of farming in James Madison’s times. We cannot nor should we try to erase history that we are uncomfortable learning about. James Madison did not glorify slavery.”

“George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the majority of our founding fathers owned slaves. Yes, owning slaves is bad. We get it now (but thanks for reminding us!). Are you really going to deplore the founders of our nation and all that they did to build this place for you to live freely over something like slavery? If you are, you’re pathetic and single minded. We can’t just go around changing college names to ‘Lincoln university, Tubman university, etc.’ Stop trying to provoke people with your pointless liberal agenda.”

“While James Madison and the Founding Fathers owned slaves, they all were integral in creating the Representative Democracy we know and love today. This is different than naming a school after a Confederate General or Politician who openly advocated for rebellion against the federal government. Just because our university is named after Madison doesn’t mean we are implicitly ignoring, or worse, supporting the brutal subjugation of slaves.”

“Take a note from Germany. In order to complete High School over there, it is required for students to visit one of the internment camps as a way to look at one of the greatest atrocities in modern history as a way to learn from it, and ensure it never happens again.”

“People all over this country are looking for some outlet to make their dissatisfaction with racism known. They think that white racists are rallying behind dead slaveowners. Their logic is that if we idolize someone and they owned slaves, we must love that part. The target should not be American history, but American modern day sources of racism. You seem to have the same issue of attributing your modern-day experiences to something visible like James Madison, when he is not the issue.”

“I think something similar to what Daveed Diggs said about playing Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton: this person did a lot of good/GREAT things for our country, but he did some personally bad things too. As people engaging with history, we have to find a way to reconcile the good and the bad. Don’t forget the bad, but don’t let the bad erase the good. I think that removing a person’s name from something because they did [xyz] is not the most effective or productive way to reconcile the good and bad”

“As an African-American at JMU, I’m definitely not a fan of the fact that he was a slave owner. At the same time though, it’s not something I thought about until now. And as a side note, my friends who are African Americans tell me the reason they didn’t choose JMU isn’t because he owned slaves, but just for the fact that the majority at the school is white.”

“I think it’s fairly disingenuous to superimpose our present day morality on historical figures. Sure, Madison owned slaves at the time, but that was a societal norm at the time. Arguments like this are presentist in nature. We can still celebrate Madison for the many good things he did, and the fashion in which he led our country forward.”

And here’s my personal favorite:

“There are more important issues then the name of the school. I have not talked to anyone who has an issue with it. People are more worried about more parking then this”

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the survey calmly and eloquently!

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