Rename Stuyvesant Hall After the Oversteegen Sisters
Alan Singer is interim chair of the Teaching, Learning and Technology department and a member of the Presidential Task Force on Representation in Public Spaces
A number of colleges have changed the names of buildings so they no longer recognize slaveholders and slave traders. In 2017, Yale University renamed Calhoun College – which previously honored alumnus and slavery champion John C. Calhoun – to Hooper College, in recognition of alumna Grace Murray Hopper, who went on to be a computer scientist, mathematician, teacher and naval officer. Georgetown University, Harvard Law School, Princeton University and the University of Texas at Austin have also explored changing the names of buildings and programs. Recently the College Council at SUNY New Paltz voted to remove the names of slave-owning families from six buildings on its campus.
During the Spring 2018 semester, Hofstra established the Presidential Task Force on Representation in Public Spaces to report on existing statues and possible new statues and plaques. Meetings have been set up to engage the entire university community in discussion. Hofstra is also planning an academic conference for the Fall 2019 semester examining the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on creation of the modern world and on race relations in the United States.
At Hofstra, as part of the university’s Dutch connection, a residence hall for first-year students is named after Peter Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant, as director general of New Netherland, promoted slavery in the Dutch colony that later became New York City and tried to prevent Jews and Catholics from settling in New Amsterdam. In a letter to the Dutch West India Company, Stuyvesant called Jews a "repugnant race" and expressed concern that if Jewish settlers were granted “liberties” in the colony, then other minority groups, such as Roman Catholics, would also be attracted to the colony.
In keeping with Hofstra’s Dutch heritage, I proposed renaming Stuyvesant Hall after Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, teenage women who were Dutch World War II anti-Nazi resistance fighters. After Germany invaded the Netherlands, Freddie and Truus Oversteegen, 14 and 16 respectively, were recruited to distribute pro-resistance flyers. Later they became, out of necessity, saboteurs and assassins. Their contributions to the war effort are recounted in “Under Fire: Women and World War II” by Eveline Buchheim and Ralf Futselaar and in a 2018 obituary written by Harrison Smith in The Washington Post.
In an interview, Freddie Oversteegen explained that the sisters felt they had no choice but to become assassins. “It was a necessary evil, killing those who betrayed the good people,” she said; however, her experience haunted her dreams long after the war ended. In 2014, the Dutch Prime Minister awarded the sisters the Mobilization War Cross, a military honor for service in World War II.