Melanie Hall, a rising senior at RMU, started a change.org petition two weeks ago to get RMU, which is located in Moon Township just outside of Pittsburgh, to change the name of the ID cards, which give students access to campus buildings and stores money (which the school calls Colonial Cash). Hall, who is Black, says the name is an uncomfortable reminder of the school's roots.
"This poorly named form of identification has made minority students (Black students in particular) feel like we are being dehumanized," writes Hall in the petition. "Gifting us with IDs that grant us our 'freedom' is of extremely poor taste. Especially coming from a University that is named after a slave owner."
Hall is referring to the fact that Robert Morris, the Founding Father for whom the school is named, owned slaves and worked in the slave-trading business. As pointed out by the student news outlet the Moon Mythbuster, which first reported the story, there are at least eight buildings on RMU's campus named after historical figures who owned slaves.
After the petition gathered 130 signatures, school administrators emailed Hall to let her know they were changing the name to the RMU ID Card. Hall announced a victory on the petition.
Jonathan Potts, a spokesperson for RMU, confirmed that the school would be renaming and redesigning its ID cards, but says the change was already planned before the petition circulated, "to make them more widely recognized on campus and more easily communicate their purpose." He says the change was not made in response to student complaints.
But Hall says she's wanted the name of Freedom Cards to change since her freshman year at RMU, but that she "never had the courage to speak up" until students across the country started demanding changes from their universities, in the wake of protests for George Floyd.
"I knew that it was something that other Black students had an issue with because we’ve all talked about it before," says Hall. "My main goal was to bring awareness to why Black students are uncomfortable with the name because it is something that other students/faculty may have never even had second thoughts about."
While Hall feels that certain aspects of the school make Black students feel unwelcome, she believes RMU is willing to change. Hall says that she and other student leaders have met with school staff about how RMU can make Black students "feel more welcome."
"I think that RMU is ready and willing to make necessary changes," says Hall.