In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd engulfed U.S. cities, Secretary of Defense Mike Esper announced he was “open to a bipartisan discussion” of renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders. Fort Polk, the Army facility near Leesville, was among the military bases discussed.
Some weeks later, President Donald Trump declared no bases would be renamed.
“We have a memorandum of understanding agreement with the U.S. Army to offer educational opportunities for the military community at Fort Polk,’ Dr. Chris Maggio, Northwestern State University President, said.
However, some NSU community members believe NSU’s satellite campus, NSU-Leesville/Fort Polk, should be renamed.
“If we are to progress towards a better future that includes diversity and inclusivity we must take the actions to create change,” NSU African American Caucus President Camren Green said.
“By removing the ‘Fort Polk,’ from the Leesville campus title, I feel that it would greatly impact not only our surrounding community, but the Demon family in general,” Green said. “If we are to uphold those strong family ties within our NSU community we have to first create that atmosphere.”
According to NSU’s 2020-21 course catalog, the Northwestern State University Center at Fort Polk is on 160 acres of land deeded to the university by the Army. Established in 1941, the base is named for Leonidas Polk, a Confederate general and Episcopal bishop, according to the Fort Polk Orientation Guide.
Assistant Professor of English and educator of multicultural literature Dr. J. Andrew Briseño believes that while discussing issues regarding Confederate generals can be complicated because they bring up the racial history of Louisiana, which can be frustrating for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and can feel threatening to Euro-Americans, speaking on them is vital to the growth of the community.
“It seems entirely reasonable to remove the name of Leonidas Polk from any place of distinction,” Briseño said, noting that Polk was both a Confederate general and a slave owner. “That is no one worthy of honor.”
Green says that she understands there will be negative consequences to changing the name because not everyone agrees. Still, she said, the decision would benefit NSU as it continues to shape itself into a place where everyone feels liberated.
“Any decision of that magnitude would demand extensive review and analysis with input and recommendations from a broad realm of society,” Maggio said.
“Negative comments, negative concerns, that will happen, most definitely,” Green said. “It always will, but at the end of the day we would be doing something that is good for the collective of NSU.”
NSU Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Michael Snowden said that while there are no current definitive answers regarding a name change, the matter is being investigated.
“As I am still relatively new to the campus, I am learning to navigate the systems to bring real change to the campus and surrounding community,” He said. “I empathize with the students.”