Activism on Campus: What’s in a Name?

Photo+courtesy+of+Olivia+Mccaughey

Photo courtesy of Olivia Mccaughey

My most vivid memory from freshman year undoubtedly was standing outside of Mason Hall during Mr. Henderson’s World History class. At the time, World History students were in the midst of our “Windsor History” unit, in which we learned about the different Native American tribes in the Connecticut area and how they interacted with different European settlers. My classmates often made quiet comments criticizing the fact that we were learning about the little town of Windsor in a course entitled “World History”. I agreed with them, and I have never been more wrong. Despite many of the students’ reluctance to give this unit importance, I found my perspective changing, and my interest has only grown from that moment in front of Mason Hall to today.

The class began with loading up all the students into one toaster bus, with Hendo in the driver’s seat, leading us to an unknown destination. We stopped at the nearby Palisado Green, where we were greeted by a large statue of a man pulling out his sword as if ready to engage in combat. While we gathered around the statue, the familiar name “John Mason” grabbed my attention. I recalled reading that Mason was a military commander who led the Mystic massacre, which resulted in the burning alive of many Native Americans. Seeing that statue in the middle of the green, I was confused as to why such a man was being honored, but I really didn’t care. The statue and the man didn’t affect me; they had nothing to do with me. Eventually we returned to campus, just as the bell rang, but Hendo told us we had one more stop before we were allowed to head off to our next class. Walking down Grubbs Quad together, the class arrived in front of Mason Hall. As we looked at the plaque that read “Dedicated in honor of Major John Mason, Windsor Colonist, Leader in the Pequot War, Legislator, Settler of Norwich”, the information in my head clicked.

I was in disbelief.  Hendo confirmed what I had already realized: Loomis named a dorm after John Mason, a man who killed hundreds of men, women, and children through the slow, painful, and inhumane method of burning them alive.

As Hendo dismissed the class, I naïvely asked if the school knew about the dorm name’s history. To which the answer was yes. I then asked him if the name was going to be changed, to which I learned that there had never been as organized effort to do so. Back at the green, Mason’s statue meant nothing to me. But now, I saw injustice at my own school, I saw the name of a mass murderer revered upon the wall. At that moment I cared. At that moment I knew this dorm name had to change.

Over the next couple of years, I met with various people and groups including Dr. Culbert, Mr. Freihofer, Mr. LaForest, Ms. Parsons, Mr. Howe, Dean Barker, the student council, and more. I learned more about John Mason, different perspectives on him throughout time, and the actual decision behind the original naming of the dorm. I discovered that the naming had nothing to do with finances, but instead, was a decision made by the first Board of Trustees 100 years ago, despite John Mason’s lack of connection with the Loomis Chaffee School. [Editor’s Note: While there is no evidence to suggest how the Board chose the dorm’s name, John Mason was a prominent resident of Windsor].

A school-wide conversation began especially after the student council formally endorsed the initiative.Starting in 2015, the deans of the different classes graciously gave me the opportunity to the present why the name of Mason Hall needed to change at each class meeting and allowed me to distribute my petition to the student body. The great thing about Loomis is that if a student has an initiative that they are passionate about, the faculty encourages this student to make their initiative a reality. I was able to present a binder of 300 student signatures to Dr. Culbert who generously presented the petition to the trustees. The Mason initiative became the student body’s voice calling for a necessary change on campus. A Mason Hall committee is currently being formed with the goal of researching and assessing the name change decision.

People in opposition to the name change often present the argument that we cannot erase history, but that’s not what this movement is about. What happened in the Pequot War between settlers and the Pequot Native Americans will not be forgotten and is still taught. This movement is about clearing the good name of Loomis Chaffee and making the statement that we as an institution do not support, let alone honor, the murder of people in such a horrific manner. History does not end; history is a living thing that stretches from the beginning of time until the end, and we are a part of it. We, as a community of Loomis faculty, students, and alumni can make history, and it’s about time we do.

[Editor’s note: For those interested in adding their name to the petition, please email Taseen at [email protected]]