Alumni say Bethany College removing Byrd name ‘long overdue,’ others call move political correctness

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BROOKE COUNTY, W.VA. (WTRF) — Bethany College Alumni are speaking out following the College’s decision to remove Robert C. Byrd’s name from the Health Center.  

Some are saying this is the right move, and calling for more action throughout West Virginia. While others say this is erasing history and discrediting the one senator’s generous contributions to the state. 

The Byrd family is known to give generously to institutions around West Virginia, the name also carries with it points of contention with the current national state. Something the president of Bethany College says was the reason to remove the notorious name.

This name change is very long overdue.

Kerry Kerr, Recent Bethany College Graduate, former BSU member

After years and years of trying, change is happening. It’s visible now. It’s not just words.

Epiphany Charles, 2020 Bethany College Graduate, Former president of Bethany’s Black Student Union

It stunk like political correctness and it’s just not the Bethany way I know and it really disappointed me in my institution.

Alex Henry, Bethany College Alum, Bachelors in Political Science

The President of the College, Dr. Tamara Rodenberg said in a statement: ‘Robert C. Byrd Health Center created divisiveness and pain for members of the Bethany community, both past and present.’ Robert C. Byrd was a U.S. Congressman from West Virginia for over 51 years, but he was also known to be a reformed member of the Ku Klux Klan. 

And, Bethany being a private and liberal arts institution, they have every right to want to remove any names that they can. Given his ties to white supremacy in the past, yes, it would be amazing to see his name removed from all the buildings across West Virginia. While we can’t discredit what he did for the state, we also can’t ignore the fact in his background about how he felt about black individuals in this nation for a long part of his life.

Evan Oslund, Bethany College Alum

Bethany’s President said, “We respect the Byrd family name, we can no longer let it represent how we lead in today’s world.” 

I was on BSU as an officer, working with administration for years trying to get the name changed. This is a very amazing thing to finally see come to fruition.

Kerry Kerr, Recent Bethany College Graduate, former BSU member

While some alumni said while attending, the health center is not even really frequented, saying this modification came out of left field. 

Never heard anyone. Faculty, staff, or student, president of the college, never say anything about that name. So, when they said this name on the building has caused so much hurt and pain, past and present, it was shocking because I knew that not to be true.

I saw so much praise on this decision, but no one was calling out the hypocrisy going on in the statement.  

The hypocrisy, Henry says, was quoting President Barack Obama’s eulogy for Senator Byrd in 2010 and recognizing that Byrd had given generously to West Virginia. To then still, instead, remove his name. 

What I found was so amazing about him was that he acknowledged it, he admitted it, and he apologized for it. But not only did he apologize for it, he went above and did things with his actions. His actions proved that he understood what he did was wrong, and he wanted to make it right.

Alex Henry, Bethany College Alum, Bachelors in Political Science

While I do notice and appreciate that he has done a lot for the state of West Virginia, he has done a lot for prominent African American organizations like the NAACP, and that people have congratulated him or praised him for his change of views and his coming to his senses, I think that there are many other suitable names for the Wellness Center that don’t have someone with such a checkered past. 

Epiphany Charles, 2020 Bethany College Graduate, Former president of Bethany’s Black Student Union

While ‘the everything has to go’ approach is not what many alumni opt for, some have described Bethany College as a bubble. So, this decision from the president of the college shows recognition of a society being reformed. 

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