By Tori Pender
Rider’s Board of Trustees voted to remove the name “Van Cleve” from the 18th century Alumni House on campus on Oct. 20 after learning its root in the history of slavery.
The Alumni House, formerly known as Benjamin Van Cleve Alumni House’s link to slavery was revealed by the Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery.
The Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery was created in 2020 by Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo. The Task Force was co-chaired by Evelyn McDowell, the chair of Rider’s accounting department, and Brooke Hunter, associate dean of Rider’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and associate professor of history.
McDowell is a founding board member of the National Society of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage, a society that focuses on preserving the memory and history of slavery, and Hunter is the Lawrence Township historian.
Neither Hunter or McDowell were suprised that Rider had a link to slavery. Hunter said, “As Lawrence Township historian, I’ve been researching slavery and abolition in the township for a number of years. And you know, Rider’s property is not the only property that has a history of slavery.”
McDowell continued, “I do research on slavery, specifically in New Jersey, and I’ve been doing that research for probably the past three years. I knew that slavery occurred here. It actually occurred in all 13 colonies. A lot of people don’t know that.”
The research that McDowell, Hunter and their team did, concluded that while Van Cleve fought for the ideas of freedom and liberty during the Revolutionary War, he also contributed to the cruelty and oppression of Black Americans by being a slave owner.
“In terms of Rider being proactive, they were being proactive about this history,” explained McDowell. “They wanted to get in front of it and make some decision about what to do in terms of their connection to it.”
In a university-wide email sent on Oct.20 by Dell’Omo and John Guarino ‘82 on, chair of the board of trustees, they said the new information about Van Cleve could not “be ignored.”
Hunter said, “This project was not simply to remove a name from a building on our campus, but more broadly, to educate people and to continue to educate people, to involve students especially in this research moving forward.”
Dion Moore, a senior cybersecurity major said, “I only found out about how it was named after a slaveholder right after they changed the name.”
At first, Moore, a Black student, did not believe that this information coming to light affected him.
Moore continued, “Then I realized that Rider is still doing small things to create change. This is in the right direction, but I think they are still avoiding the underlying problem that students face on a daily basis.”
McDowell said, “My hope … is that people will become more aware of this history, and I also want people to become aware and more sensitive to the horrors of slavery and realize that real people were impacted.”