Building additions to St. Paul Academy and Summit School are updated blueprints brought to life. These locations enhance our learning thanks to donors, but a second and less mentioned purpose is the significance behind the names of the spaces. Names act as a public representation of SPA and should serve as an inspiration to students. The ever-so-common lingua of “Huss,” “Driscoll” and “Schilling” students use to say where they are on campus are a result of the heavy influence these names bear. Without understanding this significance, students would not be aware of the rich white people our school seems to only honor. But if these people are going to be honored for their hard work, it should be for more for their societal contributions as a whole instead of just their financial generosity.
Students know who Huss and Schilling are — they’ve spoke to the community and visited classrooms — but older spaces may be a mystery. The Thompson Wing, currently under renovation, is named after Ben Thompson, a nationally renowned architect from Saint Paul W. John Driscoll, of SPA Driscoll Commons fame, was a successful businessman, part of the group of investors that opened Valleyfair. Students do not know much about these individuals besides the fact that they gave money to the school If all SPA donors were lined up side by side, there would not be many differences to point out; the fact that they are predominantly male and white is commonplace, but this never comes as a surprise. It’s true that no matter how diverse the student body, SPA has always had a way of only attracting white philanthropists, which overlooks the contributions of minority and female students. There is a rich history behind Summit School that is unknown by many. Is this how SPA should be represented, with the more public buildings being male-exclusive while the little female presence that there is waits in the background?
However, there is an opportunity to change representation and awareness with the next round of renovations. This is the perfect time to consider which names will have the most positive impact on the way the SPA community is represented, and to also give a refresh on the importance behind the older names of the school.
Although the University of Minnesota petitions for the renaming of buildings centers around the values the institution wants to uphold and how that contrasts with the names that have created a legacy there. The people SPA chooses to honor were not active oppressors as figures of the UMN were, but this does raise the question: do names expire?
Now seems as good a time as any for SPA to think about names and whether they inspire all students. There are many non-white and non-male alumni that are deserving of a tribute, whether it be a plaque, classroom name, or building.
Classrooms in the Schilling Center are named after other prominent SPA donors and alumni, or bear more lighthearted names such as “The Chamber of Secants” in the Math Commons. There are many plaques in the Schilling Center that honor other donors and individuals who positively impacted the community with contributions other than money. It’s a great start.
Taking into consideration the ways those who have enhanced the SPA community, not just with their money, are being honored is important. It needs to start with the way that SPA names learning spaces. This is not to discredit donors who have enhanced the school financially; they deserve recognition and gratitude. But the names of school spaces become part of our vocabulary, and that vocabulary should include names that reflect all aspects of the school mission.