UCL renames facilities named after prominent eugenicists

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Three facilities named after prominent eugenicists have been renamed by University College London.

The university’s Galton Lecture Theatre had been named in honour of Francis Galton, who first coined the term ‘eugenics’ in 1883, saying society needed to ‘raise the present miserably low standard of the human race’ by ‘breeding the best with the best’.

Meanwhile, the Pearson Lecture Theatre and the Pearson Building had both been named after Karl Pearson, who was the country’s first professorial chair of eugenics.

The Galton Lecture Theatre has now been renamed ‘Lecture Theatre 115’, whereas the Pearson Lecture Theatre will be known by ‘Lecture Theatre G22’ and the Pearson Building the ‘North-West Wing’.

The decision was made by UCL president and provost Professor Michael Arthur after members of the inquiry into the history of eugenics at UCL made a number of recommendations earlier in the year.

All signs bearing the old names will be taken down immediately while other changes to the names on maps and signposts will take place as soon as ‘practicable’, a UCL spokesperson has said.

Professor Arthur, who was supported by the university’s council, said the move ‘an important first step’, as the university seeks to remove ‘any suggestion that we celebrate these ideas’.

He stated: ‘This problematic history has, and continues, to cause significant concern for many in our community and has a profound impact on the sense of belonging that we want all of our staff and students to have.

‘Although UCL is a very different place than it was in the 19th century, any suggestion that we celebrate these ideas or the figures behind them creates an unwelcoming environment for many in our community.

‘I am also clear that this decision is just one step in a journey and we need to go much further by listening to our community and taking practical and targeted steps to address racism and inequality.’

Professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience Ijeoma Uchegbu, the provost’s envoy for race equality, said she ‘cannot begin to express my joy at this decision’.

She added: ‘Our buildings and spaces are places of learning and aspiration and should never have been named after eugenicists. Today UCL has done the right thing.’

The university council’s renaming committee, which includes staff, students, and equality, diversity and inclusion representatives, will lead all future renaming.

A response group, made up of senior UCL representatives, including academic staff, equality experts and the Students’ Union, will be formed to consider recommendations from the inquiry.

Other action could include funding new scholarships to study race and racism, a commitment to ensure UCL staff and students learn about the history and legacy of eugenics, and the creation of a research post to further examine the university’s history of eugenics.

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