Cutten’s Ugly Legacy

Dan Murphy

“The melting pot is destructive to our race … we must build up from our resources and conserve our race power, or else we must admit only such immigrants as shall strengthen and not weaken our race, or both. The danger the melting pot brings to the nation is the breeding out of the higher division of the white race and the breeding in of the lower divisions.”

These words were spoken by former Colgate president George Barton Cutten in an address to the Canadian Society of New York in 1923 and are displayed in the Ellis Island National Museum as an example of anti-immigration sentiments. The question I have to President Chopp and the Board of Trustees is: If Colgate is such a supporter of diversity, as the University has stated in its Strategic Plan, then why is a residence hall named after a famed eugenicist?

Colgate prides itself in its efforts to promote racial, religious, and ethnic diversity on campus, however, by honoring Cutten, the university is taking a hypocritical stance. Why can’t the university see why this issue is offensive? Many of the people that George Cutten spoke out against, namely African Americans, Jews, and other students of foreign ancestry, are living in the building that bears his name.

According to Time magazine, Cutten was the most reactionary university president in the United States during his tenure. An imposing ruler on campus, Cutten once said, “The word democracy has become a fetish in the United States … The rule [in government] must be aristocracy.” He criticized social security as a “degrading” tool for “parasitic paupers” and also condemned modern medicine and philanthropy. Lamenting the growing multi-culturalism of the 1920s, Cutten said, “what this melting pot has accomplished is to permit persons of difference races and intellectuality to marry and deteriorate our stock at an alarming rate.”

Cutten served as Colgate’s president from 1922 to 1942. Many supporters point to his great achievements, which include overseeing the construction of Andrews Hall, Lawrence Hall, Huntington Gymnasium, Stillman Hall, McGregory Hall and James C. Colgate Student Union. Cutten also led Colgate out of the Great Depression relatively unscathed and left the school in 1942 in elite standing. However, as Colgate president, his legacy will be forever stained for his racist, anti-ethnic, and un-American comments.

The eugenics movement thrived in the 1920s when the United States passed the Immigration Act of 1924, reducing the number of Eastern and Southern European immigrants allowed into the country. These people were seen as inferior. Adolf Hitler used eugenics and other racial and ethnic cleansing justifications for the slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Catholics and homosexuals during the Holocaust. After World War II, eugenics was condemned in the United States due to its association with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, but was and still is practiced in other nations.

Despite the backlash against eugenics, Colgate, following the university tradition of naming a building after a former president, dedicated Cutten Hall in 1966. There have been attempts to change the name of the building, the most recent one in 2001. Students mobilized behind Students for Social Justice and gathered over 800 signatures condemning Cutten and asking the University to consider changing the name of the complex. This past Tuesday at the women’s basketball game, several students sat during the playing of the national anthem to protest Cutten Hall. It’s time that our students make this an issue once again.

A progressive liberal arts institution has no business having a residential complex named after an outspoken eugenicist. As the great-grandchild of Irish immigrants, I am insulted that the university would continue to honor a man who referred to my ancestors as “inferior stock.”

So what’s taking the university so long? Are they being pressured by powerful alumni to keep the name in tact or does the university think that Cutten’s legacy as president trumps his inflammatory words? Despite the good that may have come from Cutten’s presidency, his highly inflammatory words are offensive to many students and should be enough take his name off of our residential hall.

Colgate has a responsibility to uphold its strategic plan in which the University stated its commitment to “embracing diversity.” However by honoring George B. Cutten, Colgate is only embracing bigotry. I call on President Chopp and the Board of Trustees to address this alarming issue and, once and for all, wipe away a stain of intolerance from this campus.