The student newspaper at the University of Virginia is reporting that UVA’s Jordan Hall, named for famous eugenicist Dr. Harvey E. Jordan, will be renamed Pinn Hall. The changes erases Jordan’s name to honor Dr. Vivian Pinn, the first female and African American to graduate from the school of medicine in 1967.

Dr. Jordan was an early 20th century leader of the eugenics movement in Virginia, which used pseudoscientific research to justify state-sanctioned and UVA-backed policies to discourage racial minorities, the poor, the mentally ill, and others labelled “undesirable” from reproducing. Jordan’s leadership at the School of Medicine made UVA a hub of eugenics research and the state of Virginia a leader in implementing eugenic policies. Thanks in no small part to his work and advocacy, Virginia continued to forcibly sterilize “undesirable” citizens until 1979.

University naming rights can be a sensitive subject, often dividing liberal students who want to end the practice of honoring unsavory figures from more conservative donors and alumni who see such efforts as erasing history unnecessarily. At Yale University, the question of whether to rename Calhoun College, named after the slave-holding alumnus John C. Calhoun, ignited a firestorm of controversy that has yet to die down completely.

But this is an easy case. True, it’s good to remember Harvey Jordan for the influence of his hideous ideology. More people should know about Harvey Jordan and the eugenics movement in America. But we can all cheer the removal of his name from its place of honor on the UVA campus, and the fitting replacement of Dr. Pinn, who overcame the racial prejudices and barriers that Dr. Jordan helped to build.


Photo credit: Vironevaeh via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA