By Alexis Johns and Meghan Brink | April 13, 2021
The university’s decision to rename the Indian Quad to Indigenous Quad marked an important step forward into fostering a more inclusive community on campus. However, it also demonstrated the power student activism can have to create a more equitable campus environment.
The movement to rename Indian Quad was sparked publicly by a petition made by Amy Zhang in the summer of 2020 and spread via social media.
“It has been in conversation for a long time,” stated Zhang on the idea of tossing the offensive verbiage from the Quad’s name. “I was just someone who said ‘let’s make this happen.’”
The petition gained over 500 signatures from students, faculty, and alumni. Zhang presented the collection of signatures, as well as the commentary on the petition to senior university leadership and Student Association President Damilola Adesanya.
By July 2020, applications for the creation of a formal committee, which became known as the Indian Quad Workgroup, were emailed by the university to students. The final Indian Quad Workgroup was made up of 17 people including staff, students, faculty, and alumni voted that the term “Indian” was not appropriate in terms of the University’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion on March 5, 2021.
“In July 2020, as institutions around the country were rightly re-evaluating building and place names amid a broader national conversation about race, UAlbany campus leadership created the Indian Quad Work Group of students, faculty, staff and alumni to study the continued use of the term “Indian” in connection with our campus,” said UAlbany Director of Media and Community Relations Jordan Carleo-Evangelist. “The continued use of the term to refer to the people who are Indigenous to what is now North America is at odds with UAlbany’s commitment to inclusivity and our goal to be the nation’s leading diverse public research institution.”
Junior Kiara Mantz was a member of the workgroup. “My indigenous background was a main motivator. I wanted to ensure that the people who are affected had a voice and a seat at the table,” Mantz explained. “As a committee we consulted multiple professionals and spoke to Tribal elders to come to a consensus.”
Once the Indian Quad workgroup was formed they met via zoom to discuss the change, using the guidance from the members of the Indigous community that were invited to speak with the committee. Once in agreement with the campus leadership, the name change was approved.
There was no pre-set budget associated with the renaming of the Quad, according to Carleo-Evangelist. He stated that the Office of Campus Planning is currently working to replace old signage as soon as new ones are available.
Zhang, who graduated in Fall 2020, hopes the university continues their mission of upholding their promise to be more inclusive of the Indiginous community. “We renamed it, but that doesn't mean you stop showing up for the Indingious community,” said Zhang. “You have to continue to build those relationships so you can educate the on-campus community, whether it's verbally or at events.”
In addition to renaming Indian Quad, Zhang's original petition called for a review of all of the names used on the buildings on campus to be evaluated. “There were comments from students on the petition called for a renaming of all of the Quads because just the sequence of the Quads themselves celebrates pretty much colonization and genocide,” said Zhang. “I have had peers talking about being a Black student and living in a hall named after someone who enslaved people.”
In respect to the ongoing fight for a more inclusive campus, Zhang said, “we often forget as students that we hold the power. This is our current reality, but it doesn't have to be. We can create a brand new one where people are actually included and it is an equitable space.”