“This was a good victory … It showed in some cases universities were capable of listening and following through with change and not just a bunch of people making noise,'' said BGSU Black Student Union Political Action Chair Kyle Thompson.
It's been four months since BSU influenced the removal of the name of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater — now named the BGSU Film Theater.
Lilian Gish starred in D.W Griffith’s film “A Birth of a Nation,” which is believed to have revitalized the Ku Klux Klan, a hate group targeted toward African Americans. The theater’s name was found offensive by several students at the university.
BSU executive board members responded to concerns within the black community at BGSU regarding the name of the theater, and discussed being proud to have made an impact.
“I am very pleased; it is the right thing to do … definitely a challenge getting here, but I’m glad the university saw the struggle and offense it gave their minority students and made the correct action,” said Senior communication major and BSU Public Relations Chair Landen Bates.
Although BSU accomplished their goal of removing the original name, they faced several obstacles to do so. Executive board members felt that many people disagreeing with the removal of the name misunderstood the BSU’s purpose.
“People tried to change the narrative of what it was we were doing … tried to make it seem like we were antagonizing or demonizing Lilian and Dorthy Gish, when in reality it was just us trying to voice the concerns of the student body,” said BGSU alumni and former BSU Vice President Keyonte’ Ashford.
BSU also explained how challenging it was getting to get the university’s attention in order to understand their concerns. They needed support not only from inside, but also outside of BGSU. This led BSU to meet with people they normally wouldn't while making new connections through nonprofits, as well as spreading awareness through social media outlets.
“Probably the biggest obstacle was getting the real issue out and having people understand that it was kind of an issue of right and wrong and that there were legitimate concerns with the theater and its name,” senior political science major and former BSU president, Kyron Smith, said.
Aside from the challenges, BSU believes that the support from their members, as well as other students and faculty, led to their success. They feel that as a result, they were not only able to spread awareness to something many people did not have knowledge of, but also bring students of color closer together.
BSU also received recognition for how they handled the situation from several different media outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. They even had activists like Shaun King post and share what they did on different social media outlets.
Although the removal of the original name happened months ago, BSU executive board members still feel it’s just as important today as it was when it happened. They believe that other universities should learn from BGSU and make sure they are taking the necessary steps to make all of their students feel comfortable and welcomed.
“Prior to this situation a lot of students felt that the administration didn't care … and even though the school always has more work to do, now we feel that it’s going in a generally good direction and we have a good number of administration doing their best to help this school for all of its students,” Smith said.
Editor's note: To increase clarity, information about the current name of the theater was added and other edits were made to references to the theater.