JMU leadership approves new names for three buildings on campus

June 8, 2021

James Madison University’s Board of Visitors today approved the renaming of three buildings on the campus’s historic Quad for Drs. Joanne V. and Alexander Gabbin; Dr. Sheary Darcus Johnson (’70, ’74M); and Doris Harper Allen (’19H) and Robert Walker Lee.

The recommendations were made by senior leadership in collaboration with the Campus History Committee.

In July 2020 the BOV voted unanimously to remove the names of three Confederate military leaders from buildings in the bluestone section of campus. At that time, temporary names for these buildings were assigned with the understanding that a process would take place to recommend new building names. To provide recommendations for permanent renaming, the 47-member Campus History Committee received extensive input from members of the campus and extended community. Recommendations were developed over the course of several months, and they were shared with university leadership for consideration and review.

“Today’s decision to rename three buildings on our campus is part of our deliberate effort to underscore JMU’s commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive institution,” said Jonathan Alger, JMU president. “These names help us to tell a more complete history of our institution. They highlight and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of important individuals and groups who have historically been underrepresented in prominent campus namings. Collectively they represent faculty, staff, students, alumni and prominent members of our local community.”

The university made the following recommendations to the Board of Visitors, which approved the recommendations during its regularly scheduled meeting today:

  • Mountain Hall will be renamed Gabbin Hall in honor of outstanding faculty members Drs. Joanne V. and Alexander Gabbin, professors at JMU for more than 35 years;
  • Justice Studies Hall will be renamed Darcus Johnson Hall in honor of Dr. Sheary Darcus Johnson (’70, ’74M), JMU’s first Black student and graduate; and
  • Valley Hall will be renamed Harper Allen–Lee Hall, in honor of Doris Harper Allen (’19H) and Robert Walker Lee, both dedicated staff members and unsung heroes in dining services and maintenance respectively, as well as active members of the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County communities.

“These recommendations reflect the values of JMU and are intended to acknowledge and redress past barriers and omissions. They advance our culture of inclusion and reinforce our dedication to an equitable environment where all can learn and work. Today’s approval was guided by a comprehensive and thoughtful process that provided the opportunity to reflect and grow with our evolving campus culture. The board expresses gratitude to the many committed individuals of the JMU community who have given input and worked to provide the critical information needed to cast our unified vote,” said Lara Major, rector of the JMU BOV.

“The recommendations acknowledge extraordinary service to JMU and commemorate contributions of figures of historic significance to the university and community,” said Deborah Tompkins Johnson, vice rector of the JMU BOV. “I applaud the work of the Campus History Committee as well as the university for calling for a study of building names, which is just part of the work to move toward racial reconciliation. In July, every member of the BOV supported the removal of the names of Confederate military leaders from campus buildings. Today I am proud to support this change and find it appropriate to rename those specific three buildings for African Americans. The five people we recognize have made significant contributions to the university, to the community at large and at least two on a national level.”

“As advocates for our more than 20,000 students, we deeply appreciate this new embrace of our communities of color,” explained Norman Jones III, student representative to the BOV and Campus History Committee member. “On behalf of the Campus History Committee, committed to centering Black and brown stories through renaming, we are humbled and honored to have poured our passion into this reclamation of histories too long obscured.”

Going forward, JMU will continue to seek opportunities to increase campus visibility and acknowledgment of members of historically underrepresented groups whose lives and contributions merit prominent recognition. The university will also build on the work of the Task Force on Inclusion’s History and Context working group, and the subsequent Campus History Committee, to find ways to tell a more complete and inclusive history of the institution through various means of communications and media.

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