The Stony Brook University community celebrated the naming of Dr. May Edward Chinn Hall on April 5 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Tabler Community Residence Quad.
The commemoration follows the SUNY Board of Trustees’ approval earlier this year of a formal process that Stony Brook initiated in 2020 to rename Sanger Residence Hall.
The daughter of two formerly enslaved people, Dr. May Edward Chinn was the first Black and Native American woman to graduate from Bellevue Hospital Medical College (now the NYU School of Medicine) in 1926 and was the first woman ever to work on an ambulance as a first responder. While barred from admitting privileges or residencies at city hospitals due to her race, Chinn operated a private practice and is known for her advocacy for new methods to detect cancer and was a passionate supporter of early cancer screenings.
She was a dedicated physician, especially for those who, due to racial and socioeconomic inequality, did not have steady access to healthcare, in many cases visiting patients in their own homes. In 1980, Chinn was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Columbia University for her contributions to medicine.
“Part of moving forward is the responsibility to choose which parts of our history we celebrate, and which parts no longer represent our mission,” Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis said at the ceremony. “Doing so requires us to take a sometimes difficult look at the spaces we’ve created and the values we’re signaling to the world.”
“I was excited by the selection of Dr. Chinn because she embodies the characteristics of so many of Stony Brook’s students who are also the first in their families to pursue higher education, who have often overcome many barriers, and who are working hard to make the most of their opportunity here to pursue their dreams,” added McInnis. “This is the legacy we want to uphold.”
Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Judi Brown Clarke said, “Renaming a building signals to the community that Stony Brook values and respects individuals from all backgrounds, and that we are actively working to create a more welcoming and inclusive campus environment.”
In Fall 2021, the Undergraduate Student Government submitted a formal request to rename the Margaret Sanger residence hall, which was then reviewed by the Renaming Buildings, Spaces, and Structures Committee, composed of faculty, staff and students. A newly convened committee then reviewed Sanger’s life and contributions, in addition to possibilities for mitigation and the harmful impact of her behavior.
While Margaret Sanger’s mission was to empower women to make their own reproductive choices, she was also a supporter of eugenics – the theory that society can be improved through planned breeding for desirable traits like intelligence and industriousness and an inherently racist, discriminatory and prejudiced ideology.
After a thorough discussion and review of materials related to Sanger’s life and impact, the committee voted unanimously in favor of a recommendation to rename the Sanger building. Members of the campus community were invited to submit nominations for the building renaming by proposing suggestions, along with a description of how the name fits with the Stony Brook University mission.
In October 2022, Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis announced to the campus community that the Stony Brook University Council approved the new building name of Dr. May Edward Chinn Hall. The proposed name was then approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees.
— Beth Squire