NRH Rededicated to Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry

Photography by Jada Jennings
Photography by Jada Jennings
Photography by Jada Jennings

Nathaniel Rochester Hall, a building originally dedicated to the land speculator and active participant in the slave trade — who was responsible for founding the settlement that became Rochester, N.Y. — has been renamed to Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry Hall. A direct descendant of the 19th-century Rochester-based abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Perry led a life of philanthropy and political activism well into the 20th century.

In recent decades, renaming has become an important vehicle for communities attempting to commit to social change, and the Rochester metropolitan area is no exception.

In the autumn of 2021, the Rochester City School District (RCSD) finalized the renaming of RCSD School No. 3, a middle school previously dedicated to Nathaniel Rochester, to the Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence, an important Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence, an important Black educator and former principal in the RCSD.

On Aug. 31, the University held an official renaming ceremony at the front of the residence hall.

Students gathered to celebrate the renaming and to learn more about why Perry was chosen to represent one of our dorms. Perry was known to be one of the first women of color to take classes at RIT and was a renowned philanthropist throughout her life. 

Evelyn Sutkus, a third year Motion Picture Science student at RIT, expressed her view on the renaming. 

“I think it was a very intelligent choice, I think it reflects the change that RIT wants to make in a more tangible way other than just saying they promote it.” 

While many students and Rochester residents may view renaming as a positive change, there is still the matter of the entire city and even the airport code remaining a firm reminder of Nathaniel Rochester.

When asked about our city and whether it being named after Nathaniel Rochester should be reconsidered, Sutkus said, “It’s a complicated issue — clearly he had significance; however, I don’t think his actions should be commended in any way.”

She then clarified, "The people of this city definitely have a connection to that name, and does that name now evoke racism? If it does then ... we should take a look at that since we don't want that feeling within our community." 

Even given Rochester's limited national reputation, the thought of changing the name associated with it for so long can be concerning for most, though some may argue it is a change that needs to happen.

This rededication is but a small part in a much larger, national conversation involving America's complicated history with regards to its Black residents, who only a few generations ago were still second-class citizens and not 200 years ago were enslaved.

Hannah Ray, a first year Biomedical Engineering student, felt that this issue is worth thinking about. “It's a part of history but history changes, history moves on,” she noted.

While renaming the city might be off the table for now, choosing Perry to represent RIT’s attempt to pave the way for change can be appreciated by students and community members across the board.