Board of Trustees chairman: John Evans’ name removal will not be reconsidered, Evans’ conduct was “exemplary”


Daily file photo by Sherry Li

John Evans Alumni Center. Board Chairman J. Landis Martin said the Board would not reconsider its decision to keep Evans’ names on University buildings.

Austin Benavides, Campus Editor

Board of Trustees chairman J. Landis Martin said the Board will not reconsider its decision to keep John Evans’ name on the John Evans Alumni Center other campus spaces.

The decision to maintain the name was announced in June 2017, after Northwestern’s Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force recommended that the University remove Evans’ name from the alumni center and from a room in Norris University Center.

Evans is the founder of Northwestern who was deemed “deeply culpable” in the Sand Creek Massacre, an 1864 attack by American soldiers that killed about 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, by a 2014 University of Denver study. A Northwestern report from earlier that year found Evans did not directly plan, but held partial responsibility for being one of many people who helped create a situation leading to the massacre.

Since trustees’ 2017 decision, demonstrations have occurred across campus calling for Evans’ name to be removed for campus spaces. In October during Homecoming weekend, the Rock was painted with the phrases “F—k John Evans” and “THIS LAND IS COLONIZED.”

In a February interview with the Daily, Martin said after the task force’s recommendation was sent to the Board, he chaired an ad hoc committee of seven or eight board members that decided to keep John Evans’ name on campus.

“We recommended to the Board that we not remove the names because we felt that would be a bad precedent and that it wasn’t justified in this particular case,” Martin said.

Martin maintained that the decision will not be reconsidered in the future.

University President Morton Schapiro told the Daily in October that he plans to respect the Board’s decision and not bring up the topic in the near future.

“(The Board of Trustees) thought long and hard… at the end of the day, the name stays on,” Schapiro said. “I have my own strong views about this, but I respect the prerogatives of the board.”

Martin said he supported the task force’s other recommendations, including increasing the level of concentration on the American Indian Studies department as well as better supporting the indigenous community on campus.

He added that discussing whether Evans’ name should be removed is “what we should be doing” and should lead to more conversations about Evans and other founders.

Ari Kelman — a history professor at the University of California, Davis — said at a 2018 commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre that the massacre holds importance for students, despite physical distance away from where it occurred in Colorado.

“It’s useful to understand what happened at Sand Creek as part of a much larger, longer story of violent dispossession of native peoples in the United States,” Kelman said. “Sand Creek is one among many examples — a particularly horrifying, ugly example — of a process of dispossession and land-theft that is a critical part of United States history.”

Provost Jonathan Holloway told The Daily in a Monday interview that, in general, when it comes to removing names of controversial figures from buildings, the bar to do so “should be really high.”

“At minimum, a university should be mature enough to have a conversation about that person and that person’s legacy,” Holloway said. “However, if a name is seen as being out of line with the university’s values — deeply subjective again — then you’re at a different place (in the) conversation.”

But Martin said what contributed to the Board’s decision was that, overall, Evans’ conduct ultimately didn’t merit the removal of his name.

“We feel that (Evans’) conduct didn’t rise to the level of taking his name off of anything,” Martin said. “And then on balance, that his conduct during his life was exemplary.”

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