Originally published in The Sylva Herald on July 2, 2020.
Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously approved changing the name from “Hoey” to “University” on a campus performance facility.
Hoey Auditorium was named after Democratic politician Clyde R. Hoey. Hoey, served in both houses of the state legislature before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and becoming the state’s governor in 1937. He was a U.S. Senator from 1945 until his death in 1954.
His legacy has been intertwined with controversy as he opposed civil rights legislation and condoned racial segregation.
“North Carolina does not believe in social equality of the races and will not tolerate mixed schools for the races,” Hoey once said.
He opposed statehood for Hawaii because the territory contained “only a small percentage of white people.”
Hoey expressed his displeasure towards what today is known as LGBTQ+ community when he chaired a 1950 investigation titled “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government,” which labeled their presence in government a security risk.
“The action originated as a recommendation from Chancellor Kelli Brown and her Executive Committee,” WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said. “The chancellor then approached the chair of the Board of Trustees, who concurred with bringing the recommendation to the full board for consideration.”
The resolution stated “It is the policy of the university to honor the core values of diversity, equality and social justice, and the university is devoted to the development of a culture of inclusivity. The university reserves the right to terminate a facility naming when the facility naming is contrary to the best interests of the university.”
Bryant Kinney, chair of the board, said he and his fellow trustees thought it important for the university to take this action.
“The board feels strongly that we needed to take this step to reflect the values of today’s Western Carolina University campus,” he said. “We are not an institution that honors a past that supported inequality. We are an institution that honors diversity, equality and social justice.”
The action to change the auditorium’s name is “long overdue,” WCU Chancellor Kelli Brown said.
“I am proud that WCU is taking this proactive step today as we model our core values of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “The values and views of the auditorium’s now-former namesake do not correspond with the values and views of Western Carolina University.”
Ricardo Nazario-Colón, WCU’s chief diversity officer, commended the board for changing the facility’s name.
“Today’s action is more than symbolic,” Nazario-Colón said. “It demonstrates that we, as an organization, have the capacity to listen, evolve and possess the fortitude to stand on the side of goodness. Thank you for leading the way and thank you to each board member.”
Dawson Spencer, WCU’s student body president, applauds the action taken by WCU.
“It shows the community that the board takes these matters seriously and is willing to go the extra mile to remedy such concerns by the student body,” he said. “I hope that this action is the first of many to be a role model across the state that all students are welcome and encouraged to join the Catamount family.”
Enrique Gomez, Jackson County NAACP President and WCU Associate Professor, agrees.
“I feel that this is a positive move by the Board of Trustees and the renaming is a way not only of affirming our community values of inclusive excellence, but also about reflecting on the past,” he said.
Completed in 1939, the historic 450-seat auditorium was the university’s first dedicated performance space and helped WCU expand its music and arts offerings. The facility was renovated in the late 1980s. The auditorium – which is still used for some performances, as well as for rehearsals, set design and storage – is slated for eventual demolition as part of the university’s long-range master plan, Interim Provost Richard Starnes said.
There is no active conversation regarding renaming any additional campus buildings, Studenc said.