SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA — The Wofford College community spent nine months participating in a process that involved reviewing and reflecting on the college’s past, present and future. A 16-member task force consisting of students, faculty, staff and trustees led the college’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion process and made 30 recommendations to the board of trustees after the 2020-21 academic year.
The college’s administration spent the summer reviewing those recommendations while assessing the institution’s status, responses to recommendations and determining Wofford’s next steps. Trustees gathered earlier in August to consider and discuss the administration’s review and responses to recommendations.
“The Wofford College Board of Trustees extends gratitude to the students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees serving on the JEDI task force,” said Chris Carpenter, chair of the college’s board of trustees. “Each generously gave their time to listen, learn and have hard conversations about student experiences at Wofford and in the world.”
According to Wofford President Nayef Samhat, “The recommendations from the JEDI task force are about student success. We also extend our appreciation to the student leaders and others who have spoken out to improve the student experience.”
Regarding the first recommendation to consider a naming policy for residence halls, trustees determined it was necessary to expand the recommendation by combining it with recommendations to establish a history, memory and place committee and the creation of a campus historian position. An ad hoc committee will be formed to examine the college’s history and the names of all buildings that are named honorifically. The committee will be charged with proposing a plan to trustees that will illuminate a more accurate and full history of the college as well as recommendations for using the names of buildings in ways that emphasize Wofford’s common history and community.
“The board acknowledges the pain and concern caused by the past and by buildings named honorifically for the college’s first three presidents, all of whom owned enslaved people,” Carpenter said. “Although we are not changing the names of these three residence halls, there is an expectation that the work of this committee will begin this fall and end with the presentation of a plan to better document our complete history and the committee’s recommendation of a possible naming policy for review by the conclusion of the 2021-22 academic year.”
The college’s JEDI task force offered compelling options for naming buildings in ways to emphasize the college’s common history while building community. Trustees, however, held concerns about changing the names of buildings honoring past presidents who owned enslaved people while retaining the college’s name. The college’s founder, the Rev. Benjamin Wofford, was a United Methodist minister who also owned enslaved people.
“An authentic history will define both their positive impact on the college and their participation in the institution of slavery,” Carpenter said. “We recognize that this is not just important for current students, but also so prospective students understand that Wofford College is wrestling with its past and is committed to ensuring that their experience on campus will be one of honesty.”
The board of trustees concluded with a statement that also affirms its support of the college’s administration and endorses the efforts of Wofford’s President Nayef Samhat and his cabinet to make the college more accessible and welcoming for all. These efforts include a new strategic enrollment plan that builds on the college’s current successes in areas of academic excellence, selectivity and diversity.
“Consistency, transparency and communication are key to our college’s success in this area,” Samhat said. “Our college has proven up to the challenge of this work, and I am looking forward to working with our community of learners to ensure that Wofford College continues its upward momentum in the fulfilment of our mission and core values.”
The college’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion action plan can be found at Wofford.edu/strategicvision and will be updated throughout the year.
Wofford College, established in 1854, is a four-year, residential liberal arts college, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It offers 27 major fields of study to a student body of 1,775 undergraduates. Nationally known for the strength of its academic program, outstanding faculty, study abroad participation and successful graduates, Wofford is recognized consistently as a “best value” and for its commitment to student success and accessibility for low- and middle-income students. The college community has 12 sororities and fraternities as well as 19 NCAA Division I athletics teams.