A New Year, A New Name: At Rutgers-New Brunswick, Students Move Into New Apartments Honoring Sojourner Truth
College Avenue Apartments renamed as part of Rutgers’ “Scarlet and Black” initiative
It’s a day Rutgers University-New Brunswick students look forward to for months: college move-in day. But this year, those who are moving into the building at 40 College Avenue, a new apartment building which opened last fall, might notice something different: a name change.
Nearly 450 students are set to take up residency this year in a building formerly known as College Avenue Apartments – but now called the Sojourner Truth Apartments, honoring the African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who died in 1881.
“I commend Rutgers for acknowledging something that may be hard to acknowledge, especially a part of history that’s very crucial and very important,” said Mariah Pierce, a senior at Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
Across its five, interconnected campuses, Rutgers-New Brunswick operates one of the largest collegiate housing programs in the country, with approximately 16,200 students in on-campus housing. Approximately 36,000 more students live in off-campus apartments or commute from home.
The Sojourner Truth Apartments, housing only continuing and upper-class students, not far from Rutgers’ historic Old Queens building, was one of the first apartment buildings to open on campus for the new school year.
The building’s namesake, Sojourner Truth, was born into slavery. At one point, she and her parents were owned by relatives of Rutgers’ first president. Truth eventually escaped to freedom and worked heroically for the equal rights of all Americans. Best known for her “Ain't I a Woman?” speech at a women’s convention in Ohio in 1851, Truth often spoke passionately about racial equality, and the message of her speeches still resonates today.
“It shows a dedication to the history that we have and moving forward. And I’ll always know that I have a meaning behind the building that I’m living in, rather than just being a beautiful new building,” said Azra Dees, a sophomore at the School of Arts and Sciences.
The Rutgers Board of Governors approved the naming of the landmark 440-bed apartment building as the university moves forward to enact recommendations by the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History – created to examine the institution’s ties to slavery and the displacement of Native Americans.
“We thought it was very appropriate that that name be on the College Avenue campus, because of the location of Old Queens, and the work that has been done there, being the symbolic place for the University,” said Felicia McGinty, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and member of the Committee.
“We’re very excited about creating a conversation and an opportunity for students to better understand our history, and our founding of the University,” she said.
As part of the same effort, the former Kilmer Library on Rutgers-New Brunswick’sLivingston Campus in Piscataway has been renamed the James Dickson Carr Library after Rutgers’ first African-American graduate. James Dickson Carr completed his degree in 1892, was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, and went on to attend Columbia Law School.
The board also voted to name the walkway from Old Queens to the Voorhees Mall as Will’s Way, in honor of an enslaved man named Will – no last name for him is known – who laid the foundation of Rutgers’ iconic administration building in the fall of 1808 and whose story was brought out of the shadows in the committee’s book Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History.
Rutgers recently joined the consortium of Universities Studying Slavery, a group founded at the University of Virginia to address historical and contemporary issues of race and inequality in higher education and the legacy of slavery in modern America.
Rutgers-New Brunswick plans to hold a formal dedication for the Sojourner Truth Apartments, the James Dickson Carr Library and Will’s Way later this semester.
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