MURFREESBORO — Citing concerns expressed by students, the trustees at Chowan University in Murfreesboro have voted to remove the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms’ name from an athletic facility.
The former Helms Center is being renamed the Hawks Athletic Center. Hawks is Chowan University’s mascot name.
“Concern expressed by students was the impetus that gave rise to the discussions of the Board of Trustees,” Chowan University spokeswoman Kim Sherman Bailey said in an email. “Through active listening and learning of all constituents on various platforms, the Board of Trustees met on July 1 to have an informed discussion surrounding the athletic facility name.
“After consideration of the impact on current students, faculty, staff, alumni, admissions, and fundraising, and due to the perception of many that positions taken by Senator Helms were not in keeping with the current mission of Chowan University, the Chowan University Board of Trustees decided to rename the Helms Center the Hawks Athletic Center.”
Asked what specific actions or statements of Helms were believed to be at odds with the university’s current mission, Bailey did not cite any specifics.
“Many are of the perception that positions taken by Senator Helms were not in keeping with the current mission of Chowan University,” she reiterated.
Helms, who died on July 4, 2008, was the longest serving popularly elected U.S. senator in North Carolina history, serving from 1973 to 2003. He was a leader in the national conservative movement who helped propel Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980. He also held a major voice in U.S. foreign policy as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001.
Prior to winning election to the Senate, Helms worked for the Capitol Broadcasting Company in Raleigh. A number of his daily editorials for the company’s WRAL-TV station, particularly about race, were controversial.
Explaining the background of the earlier decision to name the facility after Helms, Bailey noted it stemmed from a Chowan College Athletic Center capital campaign started in the late 1970s.
“A requirement of a $500,000 gift was needed for a naming,” Bailey said. “An anonymous donor made the $500,000 gift with the stipulation the building be named for Jesse Helms.”
The Hawks Center includes a basketball court, weight room and aquatic center.