Students at Lebanon Valley College, a small private liberal arts college in Annville, Pennsylvania, have asked the school’s administration to change the name of one of the buildings on campus, Lynch Memorial Hall, because of the racial and violent overtones of the word “Lynch.”
The building is named after Clyde A. Lynch, who served as president of the college for 28 years, from 1932 until his death in 1950.
According to the school’s website, he shepherded the college through the tough years of the Great Depression and WWII, and raised $550,000 for the construction of the building that now bears his name. It was originally Lebanon Valley’s physical education center and now houses academic facilities and offices.
Students asked that to avoid connotations with lynch mobs and racially driven violence, the building’s name either be changed entirely, or that the late president’s first name and middle initial be added.
The demand was one a number put forward following an equality forum students held last week. They included, according to the Lebanon Daily News, an increased representation of minority communities among school faculty, administration, and the board of trustees; sensitivity training for faculty and staff; expanded staff to support students of color and LGBTQ+ students; easier access to buildings for the disabled; and housing accommodations and gender-inclusive restrooms for students identifying as transgender.
But the issue of re-naming Lynch Memorial Hall is the one that’s caught national attention, with coverage by Fox, NBC, the New York Post and Esquire magazine, and was the subject of significant ridicule on social media.
Lynch, an Irish surname, is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Loingsigh, which translates to “descendant of Loingseach,” a personal name meaning “mariner.”
Lynching is defined punishment outside of the law and without due process by an informal group, most often public executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor or to intimidate a minority group.
The name Lynch gained its association from Charles Lynch, a Virginia man who, during the Revolutionary War, presided over a county court that imprisoned and punished those found to be supporting the British, even though he did not have the jurisdiction to do so. The Oxford Dictionary notes that "The penalties handed out were beatings or tarring and feathering, but by the mid-19th century to lynch a supposed offender was generally to hang him."
Lynching, now a felony across the Unites States, became widespread as a violent act against black Americans in the South following the Civil War. Between 1882 and 1968, 3,500 African Americans were lynched in the U.S.
According to the Lebanon Daily News, students at Lebanon Valley College have since expressed regret that the name change request was included, as it has overshadowed the more important issues.
Current college president Lewis Thayne stated that he was taking the requests under consideration, and that they would be addressed that the college’s Symposium on Inclusive Excellence on January 21. He noted that some of the proposed changes were “instep with those already being discussed by the administration" and added that the administration “stand[s] with our students.”