Thursday, Oct 21, 2021
A letter from President Dell'Omo and Board Chair John M. Guarino ’82
Dear Rider Community,
Yesterday, Oct. 20, the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution supporting the recommendation that Van Cleve Alumni House be renamed Alumni House.
Through the Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery, the Board of Trustees has had the opportunity to learn about the life and career of Benjamin Van Cleve, the namesake of what had traditionally been called the Van Cleve house on Rider's campus. This new information cannot be ignored, and it certainly cannot be disregarded.
Van Cleve's life included fighting for the ideal of liberty while also participating in and championing the cruelty of slavery and the degradation and dehumanization of Black Americans. He was a Revolutionary War veteran and statesman who served four times as speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. However, his support of slavery, both as a private citizen and a legislator, makes it inappropriate for Rider to continue its association with him (his connection to the University began in the 1950s when Rider purchased the property on which his 18th-century house stood). Van Cleve chose to champion the institution of slavery even as other citizens in New Jersey awoke to the cause of abolition and the horrors of human bondage. Judged by the standards of his time or ours, Van Cleve’s actions and attitudes have no place in the Rider community.
We cannot continue to hold him up, even tacitly, as worthy of honor or emulation. At the same time, we can never confuse the removal of his name with erasing it from history. Indeed, it is our responsibility to increase awareness of this history, which is why the adopted resolution also includes support for other recommendations made by the Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery. These include the creation of materials that memorialize those enslaved and educate around this history.
This morning, a new temporary sign will be erected in front of the house on Route 206. Plans for permanent signs and other education materials will be shared in the future as they solidify.
Since forming in 2020, the Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery has completed an impressive amount of research as it studied the University’s historical relationship and connection with slavery and enslaved people. Today, Rider launched a new section of its website dedicated to sharing this research. On the website you will find more information about the task force and its findings, as well as an invitation to get involved.
We’re grateful for the dedication each member of the task force has shown in embracing their responsibilities as they looked into an extremely painful part of our American story. We want to especially thank the task force’s two co-chairs, Dr. Evelyn McDowell and Dr. Brooke Hunter. From the inception of the task force to now, their leadership has been instrumental and their expertise invaluable.
While these actions are important, we know they will not rectify the history of racism in this country or solve all of the problems we currently face. However, enacting these recommendations represent an important step in our efforts to create a more equitable and inclusive learning community at Rider. Taken as a whole, these actions also aid Rider as it works to prepare responsible citizens who embrace diversity and support the common good.
Gregory G. Dell'Omo, Ph.D.
John M. Guarino ’82
Chair, Board of Trustees