Task force on Gish recommends renaming theater


gish 4/21

Stepha Poulin and Stepha Poulin

The task force related to the location and name of the Gish Film Theater reported its recommendations Friday. The report recommended renaming the theater; including educational materials in a display; screening programming with a focus on “social change, silent film, and classic Hollywood film;” and considering campus facility name dedications with historical context in mind.

President Rodney Rogers announced in a press release that he will review the report and consider its recommendations. He will also discuss the task force’s findings with relevant BGSU administrators and constituents.

“I appreciate the time and effort that the task force members put in over the past six weeks. I thank them for their work,” Rogers said in the press release. 

The report calls for BGSU to rename the theater “to support the University’s mission and values, as it embraces the importance of the theater not only to film students but to all academic units and student organizations.”

Members of the Gish Task Force referenced BGSU policy to “determine appropriate actions” regarding the theater. They focused on two policies, including: University Policy 3341-9-2: Naming and University Policy 3341-5-36: Racial & Ethnic Harassment.

BGSU policy outlines procedures for naming on-campus facilities. As referenced in the report, the name of a demolished facility won’t be transferred to a new facility unless a “useful facility is relocated to serve the greater interest of the university.”

The naming policy also notes a name shouldn’t “call into question the public respect of

the university.”

University policy on racial and ethnic harassment intends to protect against “an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational, employment, or living environment” and includes any “pictorial

illustrations, graffiti or written documents or material.” Under the policy, racial and ethnic harassment isn’t tolerated.

With the two policies in mind, the task force compiled its findings. About five pages of the report are devoted to them. The entirety of the findings can be found on the Office of the President’s Gish task force webpage, but the basics of the findings include the following:

  1. “The reference to The Birth of a Nation and the images of Lillian Gish in the display area outside the theater contribute to an intimidating, even hostile, educational environment. The display, with its oversize images and text, are prominent in a well-used space and evoke the film and its racist legacy.”

  2. “The stereotypes of African Americans in The Birth of a Nation are offensive, and the film presents a white supremacist vision.”

  3. “Lillian Gish’s role in the film is central, and thus her image evokes and embodies the racism explicit in The Birth of a Nation.”

  4. “In addition to the racist characterizations of African Americans, (D.W.) Griffith also presents Gish’s Elsie as the ideal white Aryan woman, anticipating the white supremacists’ ‘14 Words’: ‘Because the beauty of the White Aryan woman must not perish from the Earth.’”

  5. “Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish do not appear to have been advocates for racist or exclusionary practices or perspectives.”

  6. “Lillian Gish spoke in interviews about actors being accountable for the roles they choose. This may speak to her recognition of the social impact of this film and her role in it.”

  7. “Changing the name of the theater at BGSU will not erase film history, US cultural history, “Hollywood history,” or the legacy of the Gish sisters.”