New Jersey College Removes Revolutionary War Veteran's Name From Alumni Building

A New Jersey college decided to rename an alumni building after a task force focusing on the university's historical ties to slavery concluded the Revolutionary War veteran for whom the building was named had once owned slaves.

The Board of Trustees of Rider University, a private college located in Lawrenceville, made the decision last month to rename the building formerly known as Van Cleve Alumni House, named for Benjamin Van Cleve. A temporary sign was placed in front of the building, now simply called Alumni House, on October 21 until new permanent signs were ready to be put in place.

News of the university's decision was previously reported by NJ.com and The College Fix.

"We cannot continue to hold him up, even tacitly, as worthy of honor or emulation," Rider University President Gregory Dell'Omo and Board of Trustees Chair John Guarino said in a joint letter to the university community.

Rider University Van Cleve Alumni House
New Jersey's Rider University announced last month it planned to rename its Van Cleve Alumni Building following an assessment by the university's Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery. The decision comes as many institutions across the country have announced similar naming decisions and/or removed statues, such as the Robert E. Lee statue at the Marcus-David Peters circle in Richmond, Virginia, which is pictured above ahead of its removal on September 8, 2021. Eze Amos/Getty Images

Rider University last year launched its Task Force on Rider and the History of Slavery, which was created to assess the university and its "relationship and connection with slavery and enslaved people." The task force was instructed to suggest based on its findings "a comprehensive response to the University to recognize and educate about this past."

On the university's website, the task force published a brief biography of Van Cleve, whose ties to the university began with its purchase of what used to be his property back in the 1950s.

Van Cleve, who was born in New Jersey in the late 1730s, fought in the Revolutionary War and later served in the New Jersey Assembly. Tax records the task force obtained showed Van Cleve was a slave owner in at least four years between 1770 and 1800.

"Van Cleve chose to champion the institution of slavery even as other citizens in New Jersey awoke to the cause of abolition and the horrors of human bondage," the letter from Dell'Omo and Guarino said. "Judged by the standards of his time or ours, Van Cleve's actions and attitudes have no place in the Rider community."

The university said that while it was renaming the Van Cleve building, the decision was not an attempt to erase his ties to the school. In addition to changing the building's name, the board of trustees agreed to support other task force recommendations, which the letter said: "include the creation of materials that memorialize those enslaved and educate around this history."

Dell'Omo and Guarino described the name change as "an important step in our efforts to create a more equitable and inclusive learning community" at the university.

Rider University is one of many educational institutions that has changed the name of a building or its entire property over the last 18 months in response to a growing realization around the country about the number of institutions that were named after individuals who owned slaves or who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Newsweek reached out to the Rider University Board of Trustees for comment and will update this article with any response.