Why doesn’t UVic have more buildings named after women?


The lack of gender representation in building names at UVic doesn’t accurately reflect the university in the 21st century

David strong uvic
File Photo by Belle White

If you haven’t been on campus recently, you may not have noticed that the University Centre has been renamed. Now known as the Jamie Cassels Centre, after the previous president whose term ended in October 2020, the building is a stark reminder that there just aren’t many buildings at UVic named after women. In this case, the term ‘buildings’ refers to establishments with classrooms, research labs, or auditoriums, not residences. Although there is a good percentage of residences named after women compared to other buildings at UVic, residences  are not as commonly interacted with by students. UVic has 86 listings on their building directory. Of those 86, 36 are named after people. Only eight include a woman’s name. Of those eight, five are residences. 

How do we get buildings named in honour of women? Build more? Rename them? After all, the Classroom Building, as it was known from 1996-2000, was renamed for outgoing President and Vice-Chancellor David Strong. In 2017, UVic students successfully petitioned the Board of Governors to remove the name Trutch from the Trutch Hall residence. Currently, the building is known as Lansdowne Residence #1. These examples prove that change is possible. 

Then we move to the question of which woman should have a building named after her. At first glance there doesn’t appear to be much criteria involved in this decision. As demonstrated from past examples, if you’re a president there’s a good chance a building will be named, or renamed, after you. See the Jamie Cassels Centre, David Turpin Building, David F. Strong Building, Howard Petch Building, and Hickman Building. However, according to the UVic policy BP3100 – Naming of Facilities and Physical Assets, when naming a facility or physical asset for honorific purpose, the individual has to “have made exceptional long-term contributions to the development or status of the university; or the university deems appropriate to recognize in memoriam.”

So, presidents, chancellors, and chairs of the Board of Governors fit that standard quite easily. Following UVic’s pattern of naming buildings, there are women that fit this criteria. For example, Norma Mickelson was UVic’s first female chancellor, serving from 1997-2002. As a significant woman in UVic’s recent history, it’s surprising there is not a building named after her when both David Turpin and Jamie Cassels have one. Perhaps Cathy McIntyre, the current chair of the UVic Board of Governors, or Shelagh Rogers, the current chancellor, will have buildings named after them in the future. 

The women that do have their names on buildings at UVic, although shared with their husbands, have met the criteria of making significant contributions to the university. Ida Halpern, of the Halpern Centre for Graduate Students, was a distinguished ethnomusicologist, and Anne Fraser, of the Fraser building, was instrumental in developing the continuing studies department. These examples prove that notable women are in the UVic community that deserve to be recognized. 

The Diana M. Priestly Law Library and the Barbara McIntyre Theatre are the only major establishments, excluding residences, at UVic that are named after a single woman. However, they both are not their own separate buildings and therefore not listed in the building directory. If you search for them, you’ll find them in the Fraser Building  and Phoenix buildings, respectively. 

In addition to a lack of gender representation in building names, there is also a lack of racial diversity. As the Martlet has pointed out, “there are more buildings named after men called ‘David,’ than there are buildings named after BIPOC.” Following the conventions of naming buildings after distinguished university community members who have made exceptional contributions to UVic, are there really no BIPOC who fit this criteria? The university has come a long way since the 1960s and 1980s, when many of these buildings were named, and should take another look at who they are recognizing and who is still being left out of the narrative. 

Why are building names so important? Really, it all comes down to representation. As UVic moves  forward with the times toward becoming a more modern, progressive post-secondary institution, it should take a look at the way it continues to present itself. Imagine a young, new female student, who is excited to attend university, walking around UVic. As they’re looking around they notice all of these buildings in the main area of campus are named after the men that shaped the university into what it is today. 

The feeling of UVic as an inclusive space to people of all backgrounds is not immediately apparent. Walking through campus everyday surrounded by buildings celebrating the men of an institution that was not built to accommodate or celebrate women does not make UVic seem like an inclusive space for them, especially if the achievements of women are not visible. Times have changed. In the 21st century there is a significantly large number of women attending university and the representation in the building names at UVic should reflect that. UVic should support its female students by celebrating the important women that have contributed so much to its past.