On Changing the Name of an SAH Chapter

by Michelle Colbert and Samantha Sigmon | Feb 16, 2021

On February 3, 2021, The Thomas Jefferson Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians officially changed its name to the University of Virginia Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (UVASAH). As the oldest student-run chapter of SAH, this decision was made after months of reflection and is aligned with our goals to center diversity, equity, and inclusion within inquiries of architecture and the constructed environment. At the start of our co-presidency, we pledged not only to treasure our celebrated institutional history, but to expand and promote subjects, methods, and practices that embrace a wider variety of narratives. Therefore, our programming this year has focused on issues within vernacular architecture and cultural landscape studies, and, importantly, the inclusion of voices from marginalized or underrepresented communities in our field. 

As architectural history students at UVA, we value the history of our institution and recognize Jefferson’s significant contributions to the field of architecture. However, we feel that it is imperative to be more critical of our institution’s architectural discourse, and wish to recognize the contributions of enslaved laborers and other marginalized groups that have participated in the University’s construction. Additionally, we believe the name of this Chapter should reflect the diverse work being done in the field. With this change, we signal our openness to difficult conversations and hope that this process will provide an important moment of reflection, learning, and action. The decision to change our namesake also aligns with the UVA Board of Visitors’ endorsement of University of Virginia’s Racial Equity Task Force in their proposals for renaming, removing, reinterpreting, and rededicating specific monuments and buildings on Grounds. 

This process has involved many steps, open to the greater SAH and A-School communities. First, we gained the endorsement of SAH leadership, as this endeavor echoes their values of inclusivity, fairness, and diversity, as well as their support of the removal of Confederate monuments and increased programming that centers conversations around social justice. Afterwards, we received support from Dean Ila Berman, faculty leadership within the Architectural History department, and A-School staff. We then held an open forum within our membership and performed a school-wide poll to garner suggestions for a new name. The final vote was held at the first 2021 meeting and the new chapter title, UVASAH, was unanimously adopted. 

We believe the name UVASAH more clearly addresses the university community we serve and will signal more inclusive and expansive programming and architectural history discourse. We again thank SAH for their support, and look forward to connecting with others in the SAH community for future programming, conversation, and collaboration. 

Michelle Colbert and Samantha Sigmon
UVASAH Co-Presidents, Master’s Candidates, Architectural History, University of Virginia, 21’

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610