#ReclaimBeloit: Honoring Grace Ousley in the Powerhouse
Also by Payton Elizabeth Carlock, and Heather Warner for CRIS 165 02 Sex and Power
Recent events on campus have made it clear that Beloit is far from being an anti-racist institution. Just like the society of which we are a part, racism is deeply entrenched in our community, in our history and in very bricks that make up our campus. Most of us students pay no attention to the names of the buildings we live and learn in. We are not conscious of who is being celebrated and memorialized. It’s not important to us. But when we take a moment to look at who has been immortalized on our campus, the pattern becomes clear.
Daniel Kimball Pearsons. Aaron Chapin. William S. Godfrey. Irving Maurer. Edward Dwight Eaton.
White man after White man. Laura Aldrich Neese and the Neese theatre is the only exception, but even then, she was still a White woman. It’s not surprising, but to many students it’s evidence of who really matters at Beloit.
In her piece “Surviving Institutions That Weren’t Created For You” Yareliz Elena Mendez-Zamora writes about how existing as a woman of color at a predominantly white institution was a constant assault on her humanity.
She writes “No one tells you how to navigate through buildings that are named after men that would have spat in your face when they were administrators.”
To many students of color, inhabiting these spaces is a daily reminder that this institution was not made for them.
It matters, who we decide is important enough to name a building after. With the upcoming opening of the Powerhouse, Beloit has an opportunity to show that we care about more than just rich white men. As a way of affirming Beloit’s progress towards becoming an anti-racist institution, and as a way to recognize the excellence of Beloit’s past and current students of color, the Powerhouse should be named after Beloit alumna Grace Ousley.
In 1904 Ousley became the first African American woman to graduate from Beloit College. She went on to teach at an orphan’s school in Illinois before her untimely death in 1908. Since then, her pioneering accomplishment has been mostly forgotten.
In September 2017 Ousley’s memory was resurrected, as the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness inaugurated the Ousley Scholar-In-Residence by bringing Dr. Moya Bailey to campus. The position, named in honor of Grace Ousley, was created to recognize those who “…embody the ‘academic hustler’ who fights for ‘social justice’ in all aspects of their work.”
The residency is a start, but naming one of the college’s most ambitious projects after a woman of color would be a bold statement, and a recognition of the systemic oppression built into the very foundations of this school. This could be the start of a movement to center new identities at Beloit, moving the spotlight onto those who have been ignored and oppressed.
While we are still working to root out institutional racism at Beloit, by prominently and visibly celebrating Grace Ousley, we not only honor her legacy, but also remind ourselves of the work still to be done. Action can’t stop there, of course, but it might help to change our mindset. This would be a symbolic act. It would not end racism on campus. It would not magically transform Beloit into a post-racial utopia. It would, however, serve as a visible and public affirmation of Beloit’s commitment to its students of color. It would be a testament to what it is we value, and who we believe to be important, and most importantly, who we think belongs here.
Have an opinion? Want to learn more? Come to the Reclaim Beloit event May 10 at C-Haus.