Alumni House sign unveiled during Homecoming Weekend

By Olivia Nicoletti

Homecoming Weekend was yet again filled with family visits, music and relaxation, but for Rider, this year’s festivities included an uplifting announcement on Saturday morning.

On Oct. 29, guests and participants gathered at the Alumni House, located in the front of campus by the main entrance to ring in the news of the recent name change.

The house was originally named after Benjamin Van Cleve, a Revolutionary War veteran and statesman who served four times as speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. The name was removed and renamed Alumni House on Oct. 20, 2021, after the Board of Trustees learned about Van Cleve’s history with slavery, according to a letter written on Oct. 21, 2021 to the university community by Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo.

Dell’Omo went on to say in this letter that Van Cleve’s “connection to the University began in the 1950s when Rider purchased the property on which his 18th-century house stood.” Furthermore, it was found in 2021 that this statesman participated in “the cruelty of slavery and the degradation and dehumanization of Black Americans.”

At the event, Associate Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences Brooke Hunter said that according to the 1790 Federal Census, the township of Lawrenceville was a part of Hunterdon County which had 1,300 enslaved people out of the 11,000 people who were enslaved in New Jersey at the time.

Hunter commended Executive Director of the Center of Diversity and Inclusion Pamela Pruitt and Director of Campaign Operations Advancement Services Karen Bognar for “personally contributing to make both the plaque and the interpretive sign come to fruition.”

Hunter then welcomed Pruitt and Bognar to the front of the ceremony to officially unveil the interpretive sign that will be installed during the following semester.

Evan Blackwell, a junior musical theater major, was introduced and asked by Associate Vice President of Campaign Operations and Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Denise Pinney to sing the Black National Anthem.

“I’ve always been fascinated by history, and I think it’s amazing that Rider is taking steps to acknowledge its past and move forward in a positive direction,” Blackwell said. “I love to perform, and getting to perform as part of a program like this was an opportunity I just had to take.”

Dell’Omo spoke after the conclusion of the song highlighting the line “let us march on until victory is won.” He proceeded to say, “The song was written more than 120 years ago. And while progress has been made, we have miles of marching to go.”

Although this is a step in the right direction, Hunter said, “A sign the size of a billboard couldn’t encompass the entire story which is apart of the larger, complex history of slavery in America that began in the 1600s.”

Dell’Omo echoed that sentiment by stating, “As an institution of higher education, it is imperative that we continuously seek truth and justice, even when it’s far easier to sweep it under the rug.”

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