The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to lift its 16-year moratorium on the renaming of campus buildings.
"Many people have realized it's important to move forward with some of these issues. And that's what we intend to do on this campus," said Board of Trustees Chair Richard Stevens, as NPR member station WUNC reports. "It's a moment of leadership. It's time to do it."
The freeze on renaming any campus buildings, monuments, memorials and landscapes was implemented by the board in 2015, after it voted to change the name of a classroom building named for William Saunders, reputedly a Ku Klux Klan leader.
The board said at the time that the 16-year moratorium would give the university time "develop new education initiatives and evaluate their effectiveness", according to an article in the Carolina Alumni Review. Even then, some questioned why 16 years were needed.
"I don't think it takes 16 years to evaluate if something's working," Deborah Stroman, a UNC faculty member who was then the chair of the Carolina Black Caucus, told the Alumni Review in 2015.
The trustees voted 11-2 to end the moratorium, which was due to expire in 2031.
The board did not discuss any specific buildings that might be candidates for being renamed, but Stevens said the board will immediately study and review potential guidelines for renaming buildings, in collaboration with the chancellor. According to The Daily Tar Heel, about 30 buildings on the Chapel Hill campus have namesakes with ties to white supremacy or slavery.
The Tar Heel reports that a 2017 alumnus, Michael Rashaad Galloway, started a petition on Monday to demand the trustees repeal the freeze. The petition now has more than 9,500 signatures.
"We are living in a world where change should be fueled by a desire to create and embrace a more inclusive world, not resisted by fear," UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and UNC Board of Trustees Chair Richard Stevens said in a joint statement Wednesday. "Today, we are sending a clear message to the Carolina Community that we will reconcile our past and create a future that reflects the inclusivity and equality that our nation and the world deserve and demand."