Former Gamecock standouts are calling for the renaming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A group of former prominent athletes at the University of South Carolina testified to a university panel Friday afternoon calling for the renaming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center.
About two months ago, people started the discussion of renaming the school’s wellness center, as calls for taking names of historical figures with racial divisive stances began sweeping the nation. Back then, several major Gamecocks in the NFL, NBA, and WNBA signed a petition calling for a change.
Thurmond was both the governor of South Carolina and later became a U.S. Senator representing the state for decades. He unsuccessfully ran for President back in 1948 on a platform based on state’s rights and segregation.
Thurmond died in 2003, the same year the building was named in his honor.
Moe Brown, a former Gamecock football player, believes the school’s wellness center needs to be renamed because of Thurmond’s history with segregation.
“We must meet this moment and exemplify our commitment to inclusion and diversity. Strom Thurmond’s name must be removed,” said Brown.
Some other former well-known Gamecock athletes were able to speak with the school’s Presidential Commission on University History on reasons why they support the renaming. That included football great Marcus Lattimore, track star and Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, and Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings.
Brown, who spoke at a press conference prior to the meeting where he was joined by current UofSC student athletes, believes now is the time to create change.
“No time is better than the present and when we have so much division going on in our country, we’ve got to be able to come to the table. We’re not looking to be combative with our university. We’re looking to be collaborative,” said Brown. “That’s why we’re going to meet with the commission. Having a real conversation, real thoughtful conversation,” said Brown.
South Carolina Women’s Basketball Coach Dawn Staley was also at the press conference to show her support.
“If we create a campus where everybody feels like they are a part of it, it will be an example or model of what the rest of the world should look like,” said Staley.
Staley also said she wanted to be there to support her players who were there to have their voices heard.
“I’m standing here with them for change. I’m supporting in what they believe in because change needs to happen,” said Staley.
“I think we have to strike while the iron is hot. The iron is hot right now. I don’t think young people, whether we’re on this campus or anywhere else, they’re not going to let it die down,” explained Staley. “I think this is the time that we need to have an incredible amount of stamina to continue these uncomfortable conversations because they’re uncomfortable to some but they’re conversations that need to be had.”
Current Student athletes like Laeticia Amihere and Sam Silber believe now is the time for change.
“It’s just a symbol of making people feel unwelcomed,” said Silber. “This is our school. This is our campus. This is our state. This is our country. It’s somewhere we all should feel welcomed no matter who we are, no matter what we look like.”
Silber says she wants everyone to feel welcomed to campus and for it to feel like home.
“Right now, people are paying attention to issues going on. There’s major things happening that are drawing people’s attention,” explained Silber. “If we can use that momentum to keep it going, it’s the perfect time.”
Amihere believes it’s important for student-athletes to have their voices heard.
“Make it inclusive for everybody. We want something that we’re proud of as a university. We preach diversity and inclusion,” said Amihere. “If we’re not reflecting that in the names of our facilities, then it’s really not comforting for everyone.”
“There’s a lot of differences on campus but being able to voice our opinion, this is important because as athletes, we in the pass have not been able to voice our opinions whether there’s judgement from others or judgement from coaches,” explained Amihere.
USC President Bob Caslen also released a statement regarding the press conference.
“I appreciate Moe Brown and our former athletes adding their voices to this issue. I have heard from many students, faculty and other members of the community who share their concerns. We must work toward a more inclusive environment where all of our students feel valued. I am fully committed to this.
It should be noted the university has made recent strides in the areas of diversity and inclusion:
— Historic appointment of William Tate as the first African American Provost at UofSC, and first in all of the SEC;
— Elevating the position of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a Vice President reporting directly to the President, and hiring a dynamic new VP in Julian Williams;
— Appointing a proven communicator and leader in Larry Thomas as VP for Communications;
— Leading and establishing a university strategic plan with a dedicated priority to diversity equity and inclusion;
— Although we do not have final numbers yet, this year we anticipate seeing a significant increase in the number of Black students at UofSC; an 11 percent increase in African American enrollment from this time last year.
I am pleased that the Presidential Commission on University History could meet with Moe’s group and hear their presentation requesting a renaming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center. My very first act as president was to establish the Commission with the specific objective of leading a research effort that will help us to better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors and local community members about the complex history of the university. I also have asked the Commission to identify and include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard. Finally, the Commission was recently charged by the Board of Trustees to bring forward a set of names of prominent African American South Carolinians who could be considered for honorific naming of university buildings.
From the beginning of my presidency, I recognized the divisive nature of some campus building names. My goal has been to encourage and foster open, candid dialogue so that all views are expressed and considered. I believe it is important to have open, inclusive, and respectful discussion on matters like this from which we can move forward together. I am excited this process has begun.
I look forward to receiving the Commission’s report.”
Right now the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center is protected under the Heritage Act.
The former athletes who took part in the meeting with the commission Friday afternoon say they would be willing to give a presentation to the General Assembly to help get the name changed.