ERC: The College Without a Face

OpinionStaff Op-Ed

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As students stroll through Muir College, they likely see evidence of the college’s many attempts to honor its namesake: John Muir’s face carved into various structures, the placard by one of the entrances with a short biography, the little cafe under Tamarack Apartments named for him, and another portrait of him just inside the door, to name a few.

There is a similar feeling of recognition for the different namesakes of the other colleges around campus. The name of Goody’s Place and Market is an allusion to Justice Thurgood Marshall’s nickname, which is explained in a poster on the wall inside the restaurant. Oceanview Terrace has three murals depicting Supreme Court Justice Marshall in all his glory, alongside some of his famous quotes across the glass entrances and exits. Warren and Revelle both have markets named for their figureheads (Earl’s and Roger’s Markets).  The large metal disks in the concrete declaring Earl Warren’s values can’t be missed as one enters the college. Revelle also has facts about Roger Revelle on the walkway leading up to the 64 Degrees dining commons.

The same cannot be said for Eleanor Roosevelt College (ERC).

Named for the esteemed first lady, activist, and United Nations delegate, Eleanor Roosevelt College’s objective is to “develop world citizens through scholarship, leadership, and service,” a clear homage to Roosevelt’s own life work, most specifically, her work as President Truman’s appointed delegate to the United Nations.

Her stint in the U.N. hardly captures all of Roosevelt’s accomplishments, however. Throughout her life, Roosevelt was especially interested in child welfare, housing reform, and equal rights for women and racial minorities. In fact, she was treated with such respect and admiration that political figures were seeking her expertise until her death, over twenty years after she first entered the White House.

Given her these accomplishments, it is unsurprising that UC San Diego opted to name a college after Roosevelt. What is surprising, however, is how little UCSD and ERC do to honor her, or educate students about her work.

If you’re aware of Roosevelt’s story, you might notice allusions to her work as it relates to the international theme of the college, but there are no overt attempts to pay her or her achievements homage the way other colleges have. In Cafe Ventanas, there is a weak reference to her international work in the clocks hanging on the wall all set to different time zones. The residential buildings are also named after different global regions, and throughout the college there are banners with “Eleanor Roosevelt College: creating world citizens” scrawled under the ERC logo of the outline of a globe. The student organization Ellie’s Garden is also a clear reference to Roosevelt.

However, there is no Ellie’s Market. There are no facts about Roosevelt’s life on the entrances to the college. There isn’t even a picture of her, let alone three murals, in the dining hall. Additionally, the college was renamed from Fifth to Eleanor Roosevelt College in 1994. Nearly a decade later, the college was moved to its current location and completely rebuilt, opening an opportunity to honor Roosevelt with the design, and yet it remains utterly devoid of references to her. If a student didn’t already know who Eleanor Roosevelt was before they were accepted to this college, they could spend four years as a student in ERC and never learn more than a vague connection to her international work, which is particularly tragic given how much she did domestically.

For instance, in 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Black opera singer Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall, Roosevelt left the organization and organized a concert for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, which drew an audience of over 75,000 people. This was six years before she would become a delegate to the U.N.

Furthermore, Roosevelt worked especially for protecting the rights of women. As First Lady, she opened press conferences to women correspondents, which had previously only admitted men. Twenty years after she entered the White House, President John F. Kennedy asked her to chair the Commission on the Status of Women, where she and the other members worked to produce a report exposing and recording extensive discrimination against women in the workforce, which later became the foundation for the work of others attempting to improve working conditions for women.

Beyond Eleanor Roosevelt’s impact as a key American historical figure who deserves to be honored for her work and contributions to global society in her own right, as the only college named for a woman, the university has an even greater obligation to preserve her legacy and educate students, faculty, and visitors about her many remarkable achievements. In creating such a clear contrast between the honor bestowed on the four male namesakes of the college and the only female one, the university conveys the sense that Roosevelt’s many accomplishments are worth less than other influential figures.

Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. Regardless of where students came from or how they present their gender, they are supposed to be able to come to a place like UCSD and prepare to carve out their own space in this world by learning about the thoughts and accomplishments of the great scholars and thinkers who came before them. And yet, the lack of representation for women amongst those esteemed minds inaccurately suggests to the students studying them that women have done less for this world and by extension, are less important.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a remarkable woman who spent her life trying to improve the lives of others in many capacities around the world. As a first lady, Roosevelt used her platform to improve the rights of women, racial minorities, and children, when it would have been acceptable—and perhaps even encouraged-—for her to treat her role as simply ceremonial. After she left the White House, she continued to use her fame and influence to fight for these ideals. She deserves more than to be “honored” through a global decorating scheme with her name plastered on it.

Paige Prudhon is a staff writer for The Triton. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like for us to publish a response or  comment on a different issue affecting the UCSD or UC community, you can do so here.