Smithfield: Opinion

I remember Saunders Hall

Because I was a religion major at UNC-Chapel Hill, I spent countless hours in what was then Saunders Hall, which was home to the Department of Religious Studies.

Saunders Hall is now Carolina Hall because, it turns out, the building’s namesake, William L. Saunders, was a founder of the Klu Klux Klan.

I support the name change, and I’m surprised that I somehow managed to spend four years at Carolina without learning the building was named for a racist.

Perhaps that was because I never gave much thought to the building itself. On the outside, Saunders Hall looked like many other classroom buildings on the Carolina campus. It’s stately red brick and limestone facade did not stand out because it was meant to blend in.

What stood out about Saunders Hall were the professors on the inside. They are what I will always remember about Saunders Hall, or Carolina Hall, or whatever some future UNC trustees choose to name the building.

I will remember David Halperin, who taught the first religion class I ever took. I think that was an introduction to the Old Testament. Frankly, I don’t remember the class, but I do remember David, who taught me the value of research. His assignments sent me to places in the graduate library that I was sure people hadn’t visited in decades.

I will remember John Schutz, who was my adviser in the religion department. John taught the New Testament, but more than that, he taught me to challenge conventional wisdom and thinking. John would spend a semester telling his students what he thought about a particular subject and then give a final exam that encouraged us to throw his arguments back at him.

I will remember Peter Kaufman, and I never had a class with him. Peter and his classes were so popular that I was never fortunate enough to get into one. But I remember Peter because he cared about his students; his office door was always open to anyone with a question – and not just about one of his classes.

There were others who left an impression, William Peck and John Van Seters among them.

To a person, they were smart and curious, and they encouraged their students to be inquisitive. They also demanded good writing, which helped this future journalist.

So name a building what you will, and change it later if you wish, because the name on the outside will never be as important as the people on the inside.