Shortly following the death of George Floyd, Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer made the decision to remove George Benson’s name from the administration building.
In an email sent to students on June 4 recognizing the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, deSteiguer addressed the University’s decision to erase Benson’s name from the building.
“As of this week, we’ve removed the Benson name from OC’s administration building,” deSteiguer said. “Named after former OC Chancellor Dr. George Benson, the building was the site of a dark moment in OC’s history, when 18 students courageously took a stand for equal rights and were subsequently arrested and expelled. You’ll remember we publicly apologized to these former students last year in our auditorium, which had been renamed just weeks prior. A plaque in honor of the OC 18 now hangs in the building.”
While some oppose the notion of changing a building’s name based on racial accusations made about an individual, Oklahoma Christian made a similar decision in the past. In 2018, Oklahoma Christian removed N.B. Hardeman’s name from the big auditorium because of his racial history. In his email deSteiguer also reinforced the University’s stance on racism.
“To the Black students, alumni, faculty and staff at Oklahoma Christian University, let it be clear,” deSteiguer said. “Racism has no place here. We love you. We stand with you.”
Over the summer, Benson’s racial history did not go unnoticed by the Harding community. Following the formation of a petition to rename Harding University’s George S. Benson Auditorium after Botham Jean, a Harding alumnus killed by a Dallas police officer, the situation quickly gained national attention. Some, such as Oklahoma Christian alum Justin McLeckie, took to Twitter when the petition went viral.
“The administration building at @okchristian is also named for George S. Benson,” McLeckie wrote. “OC took bold action in renaming the auditorium last year. Benson Hall should be next.”
After the removal of the name, McLeckie quoted a Christian Chronicle article stating he is “a little bit prouder to be an @okchristian alum.”
According to the History of the Reformation Movement, Benson played a major role in Oklahoma Christian’s early history. Avowed segregationist and anti-communist crusader, Benson served as Harding University’s president for 29 years and Oklahoma Christian’s chancellor from 1957-1967.
Quoted in a research paper entitled “Race and Religion at Harding College,” former Harding student body president, Bill Floyd, reminisced on George Benson’s beliefs concerning race relations.
“[Benson] explained to us that God made some blue birds and some black birds and that they were not intended to mix,” Floyd said. “According to Benson, this principle proved applicable to Black and white people as well. In classes on the Pentateuch, he taught that African Americans were ‘under the curse of Ham.’”
According to deSteiguer, “removing the Benson name was proactive on the part of leadership as the next right step in the work we’ve been doing over the last several years to make sure our campus reflects our values.”
In addition to recognizing the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, deSteiguer’s email also addressed an incident from last semester involving recruiter Cedric Sunray. According to deSteiguer, “OC is not immune” to the effects of systemic racism.
“You no doubt remember the disturbing, racist incidents perpetrated by a former employee in February,” deSteiguer said. “I look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks the plans and projects we are pursuing to change culture and systematic racism on our own campus. But, frankly, we should have been addressing and changing culture long before those incidents occurred.”
According to deSteiguer, Oklahoma Christian plans to do better in the future.
“In matters of racial diversity, inclusion and equity, OC must do better. Must be better. And we will. “