The 20 professors and students who make up SUNY New Paltz's Diversity and Inclusion Council collectively spoke some hard truths about the families who built this town and the college.
Their extensive report — which was requested by the college president after complaints by students — concludes that the names of six Huguenot families should no longer be on five dorms and a dining hall on the south side of the campus because they owned slaves.
The report includes feedback from students, most of whom were in favor of the change.
"It's been like this for a while now," freshman Alexia Flores said outside Hasbrouck Dining Hall. "I think it's time for us to really acknowledge what happened."
The report authors made clear an oppressive culture in the Hudson Valley in the late 1700s in which black people were considered property by Huguenot families.
To show how the families considered black people, they included in the report a 1795 estate inventory or Roelof Elting.
The list includes: one churn, one Dutch bible, one sermon book, two milch cows, one black wench named Bett with her bed and bedding, nine sheets and nine pairs of pillow cases.
"With everything that's changing around us, I think now is a good time to do it," freshman Caitlyn Schmidt said.
This debate begs another question: Since there are other symbols throughout New Paltz that commemorate the Huguenot families, should they also be removed?
"I think it's a slippery slope," said Liselle LaFrance, the executive director at Historic Huguenot Street, a historic landmark district whose staff focuses on educating about the "Huguenots' multicultural journey in America."
LaFrance, during an interview in her office on Tuesday, said her job is to educate about the good — and bad — of local history, and leave it to the people to lobby their schools or municipalities for change, if they desire.
She said tour guides always make it a point to show people the slave cellars in these preserved homes of Huguenot families.
"We feel pretty strongly that it's our responsibility to explore the complexities of American history," LaFrance said. "It helps visitors understand the issues we're still grappling with today."
The College Council and SUNY Board of Trustees will make the final decisions on whether to follow the D&I Council's recommendation.
College President Donald Christian said he agrees the names should be changed.
"I spent considerable time this summer reviewing and reflecting on the D&I Council report and recommendations," Christian wrote in a message to the SUNY New Paltz community on August 24. "...I regard making a change now as consistent with our community values or fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment, including taking active anti-racist steps such as this."