The society raised the stakes early this year on our Sept. 17th meeting to debate whether or not Georgetown should rename Mulledy Hall. Affirming the resolution was one of our newest members, Mr. Kyle Rinaudo (SFS ’18) of Georgia. On the negation was a seasoned veteran, Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes (COL ’17) of Virginia.
Mr. Rinaudo began the debate by celebrating how much both American society and the Philodemic society has changed over the last two hundred years. He was quick to remind the society that while much of the country celebrates this change, there have been many monuments built to honor the more unsavory parts of the country’s collective past in the American South. Mr. Rinaudo shared how Georgia remembers the past by giving us a picture of Stone Mountain. This mountain has a massive relief carving dedicated to three heroes of the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. The state park hosts a laser lights show that culminates with Elvis singing Dixie that is supposed to be an event that provides entertainment for the whole family. Mr. Rinaudo contended that this show, and its celebration of the Confederacy, is anything but entertaining for black families.
Mr. Rinaudo then proceeded to explain to the floor that we were sitting in the Philodemic room to discuss Rev. Thomas Mulledy SJ. This man was president of Georgetown between 1829 and 1837, and oversaw a massive expansion of the university. One building that Rev. Mulledy oversaw the construction of was a new Jesuit Residence. With humility typical of a Jesuit, Rev. Mulledy named this new Jesuit Residence after himself. In order to construct these renovations, Rev. Mulledy took out a massive amount of debt. In order to pay off these loans, Rev. Mulledy sold Georgetown’s 272 slaves to the governor of Louisiana. For this cruel act, Rev. Mulledy was formally criticized by the Jesuits and eventually was removed from the University.
Mr. Rinaudo argued that Georgetown’s decision to keep this name is inherently wrong. He told the floor of the pain and anger expressed at a Black Student Alliance meeting that he attended with Mr. Perez-Reyes. Communicating the sentiment that these feelings cannot and should not be trivialized, Mr. Rinaudo exhorted the floor to consider the retention of the name Mulledy Hall as Georgetown betraying its black students. He argued that we name buildings after people because we aspire to live as they once did. If Georgetown were to refuse to change the name of Mulledy Hall, it would continue to allow Mulledy’s awful actions to define both the building and our university.
Mr. Perez-Reyes opened his keynote by asking the floor to remember charity while both speaking and listening. He reminded the floor that while Rev. Mulledy created the debt that ultimately led to his decision to sell 272 slaves, he was the university president that made Georgetown the university it is today. Under Rev. Mulledy’s tenure as president, the student body grew to be eight times its previous size and the university expanded to include schools of law and medicine.
Mr. Perez-Reyes argued that if we are to truly experience the benefits brought about by Rev. Mulledy’s expansion, we must not erase the history that brought these schools and buildings into existence. He contended that Mulledy’s name must remain a splinter in our mind in order to cause pain every time we remember the history behind the former Jesuit residence. Mr. Perez-Reyes forcefully concluded by reminding the society that it is impossible to escape the history when it is continuously staring you in the face.
Ms. Burke opened the floor by reminding the society that attention spans are incredibly short and fickle. If Georgetown did not rename Mulledy Hall, it would not remind students of its dark history. Rather, memory of Mulledy’s crimes would fade away as quickly as the discussion of ALS after the ice bucket challenge ended. Mr. Dulik (SFS ’13) told the society about his runs down the national mall. He posited that the juxtaposition of the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials serve to remind us how Jefferson’s ideal democracy will continue to be incomplete until King’s dream is realized. In the same way, Georgetown should choose to embrace its tradition of Utraque Unum and seek to reconcile Rev. Mulledy’s horrible decision to sell slaves and his service to the University.
Mr. Naft responded to Mr. Dulik by promising us an energetic and beautiful speech. He told us that by failing to rename Mulledy Hall, Georgetown lost the opportunity to change the name of a building that was wrapped up in the painful experiences of the slave trade. Mr. Dinneen responded by mentioning how Yale is going through a similar identity crisis over a residential college named after John C. Calhoun. He told the society that the logic required to rename Mulledy Hall would require us to support renaming all monuments that honor those who participated in the slave trade.
Ms. Thanki countered Mr. Dinneen by reminding him that there is a monumental difference between a university president and a person who helped found American democracy. Furthermore, Ms. Thanki argued that there is no shortage of Jesuits that Georgetown could have named Mulledy Hall after. For these reasons, Georgetown’s decision not to rename Mulledy Hall was both irresponsible and unethical given the suffering attached to the name. Mr. Greco (COL ’15) asked the floor to consider the idea that naming a building after a certain person necessarily means the person is being honored. Ms. Hernick challenged the room to take the debate a little more seriously. She asked the room if they thought Stone Mountain should be destroyed because of the racist beliefs and actions carried out by the men it honors. Mr. Schafer got up to give a wonderfully crafted response to Ms. Hernick, lost his train of thought, and sat down. Mr. Kim’s speech was quite poignant, asking the society to remember the names of the slaves Rev. Mulledy sold down the river. He begged the floor to understand the evil necessary to treat 272 people as an economic asset instead of human beings.
With us reaching the top of the hour, Mr. Jeremiah Fernandez (COL ’16) informed us that the society wasn’t debating a man; we were debating the concept of a person. None of us knew Rev. Mulledy, and no one could say for certain whether or not he really deserved to be remembered in a positive light. In essence, he argued trying to remember or celebrate the past is futile because it will eventually be lost. Mr. Patrick Soltis (COL ’18) argued that damage is done to a school’s reputation when buildings are named after unsavory people. Ms. Erica Tillotson (COL ’18) contended that changing the name of a building is an empty gesture that doesn’t symbolize anything. Mr. Billy Moran (SFS ’16) that there’s no good reason to keep the name of Mulledy Hall. Rev. Mulledy took out thousands of dollars worth of debt, and named a building after himself. That is not a large enough accomplishment to overcome the evil he committed.
Mr. Connor Lu (COL ’19) argued that changing a name cannot change the past, and therefore, we should keep a steadfast history of Georgetown. Mr. Allen Easterling (SFS ’19) informed the society that the meditation center used to be a house for Georgetown’s slaves. He posited that there are many more actions Georgetown needs to take to reconcile its past with its present mission, but that renaming Mulledy Hall is a start.
Ms. Aleman took to the floor to tell the society how much she despised Hillary Clinton for taking her husbands name. She told the society that when a name changes it erases the history behind the name, and negates the sacrifices of a family for their daughter. She argued that instead of changing the name of Mulledy Hall, it would be more appropriate to build a memorial to the slaves so that their names become as prominent as Mulledy’s. Chancellor Whelan responded by disclosing his admiration for the founding fathers of the United States. His argument was that their eloquence and their courage deserves to be enshrined in buildings and monuments throughout the country, while Rev. Mulledy has done nothing to earn his name a place on an honorable building. Mr. Musgrave attempted to rebut Chancellor Whelan by reminding the society that official names don’t always stick. He used Alumni Square as an example of such a building. This would suggest that renaming Mulledy Hall is futile.
In response to Mr. Musgrave, President Ringwald took her prerogative. She passionately described the cowardice of the United States Congress in refusing to pass HR40. This is a resolution that would create a committee to examine reparation proposals for African Americans. President Ringwald argued that HR40 has been rejected over and over because the United States is too afraid to face the modern consequences of slavery. President Ringwald charged Georgetown with the task of validating the historical experience of blacks both on its campus and in the country at large. Changing the name of Mulledy Hall is the smallest action Georgetown needs to take in order to come to its own reconciliation with the past. Vice-President Willis responded by making a comparison to the Armenian Genocide. His argument was that Turkey and Armenia don’t pass their own versions of HR40 because digging up history over a century old only gets people angry. He argued that change for the sake of change is useless, and that changing the name will do nothing to help fix the wrongs of the past.
Ms. Kurek reminded us how serious this debate was, and reminded the society that people have extraordinarily selective memories. She mentioned how the Russians struggle to remember Tchaikovsky loved a man because of their political climate. Ms. Kurek claimed that Mulledy was not a good enough man to forget his crimes and remember his achievements. Mr. Fletcher took his time on the floor to point out that even if we rename the building, the building will continue to stand. He argued that it is difficult to talk about the reasons we have such a beautiful university, but that we must not forget the role slavery played in making our university great. Mr. Harden closed the floor by telling the society the story of the Eagle. The Eagle was a ship built by Hitler, and is used by the Coast Guard to initiate its new members with a summer on the ship. His point was that the marks on the ship mark it as a Nazi made vessel, but that its purpose has changed because of how the United States uses the ship. In the same way, the building will stay at Georgetown, but by renaming Mulledy Hall, Georgetown can move beyond its roots and focus on the role the building will play in the future.
Mr. Perez-Reyes returned to the dais to correct the society’s conception of the word monument. The Latin root of monument does not mean to honor, but rather to remember. Mr. Perez-Reyes argued that monuments are not used to glorify the past, but are rather used as an access point to both the pain and the glory of the past. He argued that Mulledy Hall stands as a monument to a single Jesuit’s sin. By refusing to rename Mulledy Hall, Georgetown is filling, not erasing, a gap in its memory.
Mr. Rinaudo began his keynote by asking the society to consider the spirit of Georgetown. His closing revolved around explaining how Mulledy Hall undermines this spirit in the students of Georgetown. Mr. Rinaudo mentioned that we could better understand the purpose of renaming Mulledy Hall by continually asking ourselves: “Whose voice am I not hearing?” By considering points of view that have been marginalized, Georgetown is able to transform into a better version of itself. Mr. Rinaudo recognized that renaming Mulledy Hall is only a gesture, and that this renaming cannot fix history. In spite of this, Mr. Rinaudo implored the society to begin the thousand-mile journey toward a more perfect Georgetown with the single step of renaming Mulledy Hall.
After an excellent debate, the society decided to narrowly affirm this resolution with a vote of 40 affirming and 36 negating.