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Movement to rename Sims Hall gaining steam before Trustees' meeting Friday

Petition organizers and signers say it's time to remove Sims' name from the residence hall

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Friday, the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees will consider a resolution to rename the J. Marion Sims residence hall.

Sims Hall on the Women's Quad at USC is the subject of a petition calling for a name change.

On Wednesday, one of the signs outside the building was spray painted with black paint over the name. 

Thomas Brown, a USC expert on public monuments, said J. Marion Sims is a controversial figure.

“Sims is famous because he was on the ground floor in the development of eugenics, science of racial breeding, and he got that position by systematic experimentation on enslaved African American women,” Brown said.

Sims is known for inventing gynecological treatments and equipment, however in the last 10 years or so his methods have fallen under criticism, according to Brown and petition organizers.

In a letter this week, University President Bob Caslen said he would take a resolution to the Board of Trustees to get approval to rename Sims Hall, which was named in the 1920s.

Caslen wrote in part, “Students and others have raised concerns for many years about J. Marion Sims' name adorning this building. As the Commission notes, his legacy is a complex one, but it is without dispute that he performed hundreds of medical experimentations on enslaved African American women.”

The petition group leading the charge to repeal the Heritage Act said it's overdue, but petition signer and USC graduate Lyric Swinton called it a necessary one.

“One group of people gets to enjoy all those experiences and doesn't have to feel bad about it. When students of color go into those buildings and actually try to enjoy themselves, they have to remember, I'm sitting in a place that was named after a person that didn't even see me as human,” Swinton said.

Caslen's letter said he'll ask the trustees to get permission from the General Assembly to change the name under the Heritage Act.

One of the repeal effort organizers and USC graduate, Helen Knight, said these decisions matter.

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“Symbols are culture. And so, it is important, we think, to take this moment to have a really productive conversation and hopefully remove these symbols. But, again, just the tip of the iceberg. And I think President Caslen said it well after George Floyd's murder, in his statement, he said this is just the beginning of a process,” Knight said.

As of Wednesday night, the petition website says more than 80,000 people have signed the various petitions.

Swinton recommended the University consider names like Henrie Monteith Treadwell, one of USC's first black students who helped integrate the University.

Caslen said if the change was approved there would be an announcement on the renaming process.