College of Wooster Lowry Center Name Change
College of Wooster Lowry Center Name Change
We, members of The College of Wooster community, sign this petition in support of a renaming of the Lowry Student Center to something more neutral and welcoming to the entirety of our campus community.
As outlined in the recent article published by The Wooster Voice and the message sent by the Board of Trustees on April 12, 2021 about President Howard Lowry’s behavior and relationships with young women, it is evident that he is not a role model for our campus.
We recognize that Howard Lowry is responsible for bringing Independent Study to Wooster, and all of the positive benefits that has yielded for The College. We do not dispute that his contributions helped to put Wooster on the map. We take the same stance as the women who were most directly harmed by Lowry’s predatory behavior, and their family members, who have come forward to share their stories. These alumni have not advocated for a complete removal of Howard Lowry’s name and legacy from this campus, but rather that his legacy not be tied to our most central campus building.
The Lowry Center is meant to be an accessible and welcoming place to all students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents, and other members of The College of Wooster community. By having the building named after someone who had a clearly established pattern of sexual harassment, we make this crucial space on our campus less accessible to those who have endured sexual harassment in their own lives and now feel uncomfortable in this space. Stanford’s Principles and Procedures for Renaming Buildings lists factors to consider when discussing the renaming of a campus building. Factor three, Harmful impact of the honoree’s behavior, states, “the case for renaming is strong to the extent that retaining a name creates an environment that impairs the ability of students, faculty, or staff of a particular gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, national origin, or other characteristic protected by federal law or University policy, to participate fully and effectively in the missions of the University.” By particularly making victims of sexual harassment feel excluded or unwelcome in such an important campus space — where students eat, get mail, and perform other crucial functions — keeping the name on this space prevents a subset of our community from participating fully and effectively in the Wooster mission.
We encourage the Board of Trustees and major donors to consider removing Lowry’s name from the Student Center building, and instead associating it more concretely with his primary contribution to The College: Independent Study. Those who brought forward their stories and voices to The Wooster Voice have proposed a number of alternatives, such as more directly tying Lowry’s name to the Independent Study process, or to create a digitized database of all the historical Independent Study theses which are not yet available online. This could add real value to The College community and would likely be an easy platform for alumni engagement and donations. We urge the Board to seriously consider these creative proposals which aim to balance the preservation of Lowry’s legacy with the recognition of the other harms for which he is responsible. This is in line with factor seven: Possibilities for Mitigation in Stanford’s Principles & Procedures.
Stanford’s Principles and Procedures also lists The University’s prior consideration of the issues as an important factor to consider in the process of renaming buildings. It reads, “The case for renaming is stronger when the honoree’s offensive conduct came to light after the naming, or where the issue was not the subject of prior deliberation. The case for renaming is weaker when the University addressed the behavior at the time of the naming and nonetheless decided to honor the person, or when the University has already considered and rejected a prior request for renaming.” Because President Howard Lowry’s behavior was dismissed at the time as being simply a “bachelor’s lifestyle,” this question was not the subject of deliberation at the time of the naming and has never been publicly addressed by the institution prior to the recent Board of Trustees statement.
It should additionally be noted that Kenyon College recently renamed their athletic center after their fifth Black graduate, William E. Lowry Jr. We ask the Board of Trustees, in light of the fact that Kenyon College and The College of Wooster now both have a Lowry Center, do we want to be the one with the reputation as “the bad Lowry Center”? We, as members of The College community, do not want incoming students or others from outside The College community to think that maintaining Howard Lowry’s name on our student center reflects our views. We implore the Board to think about how this contrast between Kenyon and Wooster might be viewed by incoming students and affect our admissions rates.
It should also be noted that Howard Lowry has no living descendants who could voice being upset by this change and that he was not a major donor in the building of the original Lowry Center. Moreover, it is also well documented that Howard Lowry himself was not particularly happy when they announced that they would be naming the Lowry Center after him, because it would be harder for him to fundraise for it if it was in his name.
Finally, as the Lowry Center is set to undergo construction in the coming year, the Board of Trustees has an opportunity to demonstrate strong moral leadership by recognizing that the patterns of sexual harassment displayed by President Howard Lowy were and are wrong and inappropriate. We hope that the Board of Trustees will take this issue seriously and urgently consider renaming our Student Center to a more neutral and welcoming name for all members of our community.