Students have voiced support for changing the name of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after seven women accused Michael Steinhardt — the school’s namesake — of sexual harassment. But so far, there have been no public feats of activism — no protests have erupted, no petitions have been signed and no letters have been sent demanding the name be changed.
Controversial namesakes have brought about activist efforts at NYU and other universities in the past. When Elmer Holmes Bobst Library came under scrutiny for being named after an anti-Semite and an accused pedophile, a student activist group demanded it be renamed. At Yale University, students petitioned and protested to change the name of Calhoun College due to its namesake John C. Calhoun’s ties to white supremacy and slavery. They were successful — in 2017, the university changed the name. Princeton University students protested the inclusion of Woodrow Wilson’s name on school buildings in 2016 for his segregationist views and The University of Texas at Austin student government passed legislation last year to change the name of Robert Lee Moore Hall, named after former UT mathematician and outspoken segregationist.
Three weeks after allegations against Steinhardt came to light, there have not been any similar efforts — but students still say they would like to see the school’s name changed. Steinhardt graduate student Amy Feinberg said the Steinhardt name is at odds with the college’s values.
“[The school] is about humans — culture, education and human development,” Feinberg said. “I don’t think [Michael Steinhardt] aligns with what Steinhardt stands for, so I don’t want that name attached to where I graduate.”
Tisch sophomore Sophie Vincent said that while Steinhardt is a recognized name in the academic and professional world, the university should acknowledge the implicit support shown by keeping the name.
“I think leaving the name can glorify a person and can give more power to that person,” Vincent said.
CAS sophomore Grace Samaritano thinks allowing the Steinhardt name to stand would tarnish NYU’s reputation.
“I think it’s embarrassing to have a building named after someone who’s done so many really questionable things,” Samaritano said.
A graduate student who works at the school, but did not want to share what office she works in or her name for fear of repercussions, has stopped using the school’s name when answering the phones. Instead, she only gives the name of the office she works in, with no “Steinhardt” to precede it.
In a statement to WSN, university spokesman John Beckman did not address the university’s position on changing the name, but said that the Board of Trustees has assigned four of its members to a subcommittee with the goal of reviewing Steinhardt’s interactions solely with NYU students, faculty and staff. The allegations against Steinhardt largely come from the Jewish philanthropy community.
In 2015, NYU removed Bill Cosby’s name from a film workshop program for high school students following sexual assault allegations for which he was later convicted. However, the school has not changed the name of an entire building or school in the past.
Steinhardt sophomore Mayona Smith said that although she understands the argument for changing the name of the school, she and other students she knows are concerned whether a name change will affect scholarship funds due to the Steinhardt family’s financial support.
“A lot of students need [a] scholarship to go to this school,” Smith said. “On one hand, you want to be morally right, but on the other hand, it’s like, I also want an education.”
Email Bethany Allard at [email protected]