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University takes stand against name change after discovery that namesake had slavery connection

 Wingate University, a private school located just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, has taken a stand and refused to change its name after another prestigious university in the state discovered that Wingate's namesake had a connection to slavery.

What is the background?

Wake Forest University, located about two hours from Wingate, announced in May that it was renaming part of its Wait Chapel from "Wingate Hall" to "May 7, 1860 Hall."

"The date reflects when 16 enslaved people were sold to fund Wake's initial endowment under the leadership of then-president Washington Manly Wingate," according to a Wingate University statement.

After the discovery of Washington Manly Wingate's connection to slavery, Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch informed Wingate University President Rhett Brown, who was unaware of the slavery connection. In fact, Wingate conducted an audit of its buildings and monuments in 2018 to investigate whether anything on campus was named after "anyone with egregious pasts." The school discovered no such connections.

After learning of the slavery connection, however, Brown convened Wingate officials and students to determine a plan of action.

"Knowing that the stain of past transgressions can never be eliminated and that the debt to people of color can never be repaid, Wingate University officials do believe this deeply upsetting news can serve as an opportunity for reflection, reconciliation and growth," the school said.

What is Wingate doing now?

Brown announced Friday that Wingate will not change its school name.

"I would first like to clear up an assumption some have made since the news first broke: Wingate University is NOT considering a name change," Brown said in a clarifying special message.

Instead, Brown explained Wingate will double down on its mission of equipping students to "serve the common good" by reclaiming the Wingate name.

"It's time to reclaim the Wingate name and reaffirm our position statement: To all students who strive to improve themselves and their communities, Wingate University is a laboratory of difference-making, where students' desire to learn intersects with faculty expertise and with opportunities in our region, to serve the common good," Brown said.

"I have asked a small team of researchers to study our namesake and report their findings to an advisory group. The work of the research team will enable us to acknowledge and develop a more complete understanding of our history. Based on these findings, the advisory group will recommend to our Board of Trustees ways to improve how we serve all students in an environment where each individual belongs and thrives," he explained.

What was the reaction?

Surprisingly, students and alumni were not upset about the decision.

Rashaard Pringle, a student who graduated this year, told WSOC-TV that changing Wingate's name is not as important as the university fostering a fruitful environment for students to grow.

"It's probably something that needs to be changed, but if it doesn't, if it's not changed, this is a good environment that we are in," Pringle said.

Senior Grayson Chapman agreed.

"We don't really care what it's called, as long as we have the same family, same family atmosphere, the same traditions," Chapman said. "I'm proud to be a Wingate student. It's one of the best decisions I ever made."

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