Mount Allison must rename award honouring racist eugenist

In the summer of 2015, I was privileged to receive the Mount Allison biology department’s Ruggles Gates Award, an annual summer research fund for honours students. While I was and am grateful for having received the award, I quickly learned it had a very dark origin.

The award was created by an endowment from Reginald Ruggles Gates (1882-1962), a Mt. A alumnus who became a prominent advocate for eugenics before and after World War II. Gates, a professor at King’s College London, also conducted racist “research” on human genetics and heredity, purporting that human “races” were separate species. In 1933, Gates testified for the forced sterilization of 250,000 mentally disabled Britons to the Brock Committee, a notoriously pro-eugenics government inquest.

Gates later became an active member of an international group of scholars who endorsed eugenics and “race hygiene” long after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed and public support for eugenics had eroded. This scholarly group actively impeded the American Civil Rights movement – Gates himself was vocally opposed to interracial marriage.

As a recipient of this award, I believe it is important to confront its origins not only at a personal level, but also at an institutional one. I encourage the administration, specifically Vice-President Gloria Jollymore and the University Advancement Committee, to change the name of the Ruggles Gates Award, thereby acknowledging its foundation in one of the darkest periods of recent history.

I met with Jollymore in March to discuss this and was told it would be considered by the Advancement Committee. I hope they will make the right decision and rename it.

All wealth is inherently political. We live in an economic system that unjustly benefits certain people and institutions at the expense of others, discriminating along lines of race, gender and historical circumstance. By changing names or erasing imagery of historical injustice tied to the wealth of our institutions, we come a step closer to addressing today’s injustices rooted in that same history.

The same racism that gave Ruggles Gates the privilege and wealth used to create the award in his namesake still exists today. By renaming the award, the university could take a small but meaningful step in considering how it can dismantle other forces of historical oppression on campus. As long as it remains the Ruggles Gates Award, Mt. A will continue to honour a racist eugenicist who advocated for a practice that killed millions of people and whose effects are still felt by the descendants of victims today.

This is an opportunity for Mt. A to join a global movement of institutions changing historical names or imagery of racism, colonialism and other means of oppression. Universities across the United States, including Yale and Harvard, are renaming buildings and programs honouring 19th-century slave owners. A statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist who established brutal colonial legacies in southern Africa and also the namesake of the Rhodes Scholarship, was removed from the University of Cape Town last year. Another statue in his likeness is facing mounting opposition at Oxford University.

While the nature of scholarship and award funding indirectly supports inegalitarian access to higher education, awards like the Ruggles Gates Award can provide important short-term opportunities for Mt. A students in the increasingly corporatized Canadian university. I propose not the discontinuation of the Ruggles Gates Award altogether, but instead a name change as the first step away from Mt. A’s sometimes-ugly past.

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