Established in 1922, Nott Hall at the time was known as The University of Alabama’s Honors College home. The building was originally named after Josiah Nott who was an American surgeon and anthropologist known for his studies of the origin of yellow fever. However, Nott was a slave owner and made the argument for slavery with his scientific reputation to defend him. As of this past August, Nott Hall is now known as Honors Hall to accurately reflect the university’s goals for inclusion and diversity for students and faculty.
Honors College Dean Tara Williams believes the name change is a step in the right direction for the university and the honors college.
“It was certainly true that Josiah Nott’s beliefs were opposed to the values and mission of the honors college. We have really specific learning outcomes that talk about helping students become critical and creative thinkers, ethical and empathetic citizens, collaborative and inclusive leaders, and that was a very different approach from Josiah Nott,” Williams said.
The original presentation to the board of trustees to change the building name took a month to unanimously vote on. The trustees involved were Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge John England Jr., Barbara Humphrey, Vanessa Leonard, Harris Morrissette, Scott Phelps and Stan Starnes.
“Trustee Judge England put forward the motion and he talked about our building as a place where students, faculty and staff pursue excellence and demonstrate the commitment of the university to diversity, fairness, equity, and inclusion. That sounds to me like a challenge to live up to, a goal that can guide what we do, and all the work that we need to continue to do together,” Williams said.
The younger generation’s involvement in social justice reform around the country has caused more and more people to speak up. Many of the students at the University are no exception.
“My first reaction was that I was really glad that our students are thinking seriously and carefully about these issues and advocating for positive change and that the university was listening and attending and responding to those. That seemed to be a really good sign on both sides,” Williams said.
Students have mentioned the name change on social media to raise awareness for the history of buildings’ namesakes around campus that they believe should be changed. This caused a chain reaction to start advocating for the Nott to Honors Hall name change.
“It’s a welcome renovation to our campus. I think a lot of people have wanted to change the names for a while now, so it’s nice to finally see the change,” Jack Bragg, junior studying finance and accounting said.
The student population coming together to help the social injustice has not gone unnoticed by staff and faculty.
“I am really glad to be part of a college that students are so engaged around this issue. I think the fact that our students were involved in the petitioning is great. It is a really important issue and I am glad that people are thinking of it as one,” Williams said.
While the name change was a step in the right direction for the University, some think the name chosen is too generic.
“I do think they could’ve been a little bit more creative than just Honors Hall, but it’s a good medium. I think it could have been named after someone who is affiliated with the honors college. I mean there are a lot of people that have done fantastic things within the Honors College that it could be named after,” Henry Mcklin, an Honors College ambassador, said. “It reflects a really good image on the Honors College and shows really good steps in the right direction for the University in the 21st century and shows accountability for its actions and history.”
Students like UA freshman Austin Prater think that the name was not honorable to the University and are happy to see the change, but are disappointed it took so long to realize.
“The change from Nott Hall to Honors Hall is a change that was needed, but it shouldn’t take riots and protests to implement this change,” Prater said. “I feel the name is too generic for the hall, I am sure that there is another prominent name within the University that could take the place of Nott.”
However, Williams believes that the name change creates a challenge for the honors college to live up to.
“Honors Hall is really a descriptive name, it talks about who is in the building. What I like about the name Honors Hall is that it puts the responsibility on us as a college. Whatever we do shapes what people will think of the honors college and of Honors Hall,” Williams said.
Students have wondered if the name will be changed again to reflect an Honors College graduate that represents all the learning outcomes for the students. Understanding where these students are coming from, Williams looks forward to the future but doubts any name change soon.
“Something like a building name change isn’t something that we as a college can enact. It has to be something that the University and the board of trustees are involved in. I am not aware of any plans right now. I know they are still looking at other buildings’ names and that they will go through that list before looking at renaming previous buildings,” Williams said. “I think that there are a lot of things we can focus on if we think about Honors Hall as the name that we want to give the meaning to and there’s plenty for us to do to make progress in that area and put our efforts there now.”