What is it about?

This a history of a controversy over the name of a campus building at the University of Hawaiʻi. A locally respected, Australian-born psychologist named Stanley Porteus spent most of his career at the university. A building was named in his honor shortly after his death, resulting in a campus controversy in the 1970s because Porteus studied race differences and worked in circles that promoted racist approaches to social scientific research. The controversy renewed again in the late 1990s, this time resulting in Porteus' name being removed. In this article, I used archived documents and newspaper articles to piece together some of the history of this campus controversy, and I suggest what it can tell us about navigating shared spaces in light of our colonized past and present.

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Why is it important?

This article approaches the history of psychology in the Pacific, which is a place and a group of peoples not generally included in the discipline's histories. The examination of this historical naming controversy comes at a time of renewed debate around legacy and memorialization on campuses and elsewhere. It also comes at a time when the discipline of psychology, particularly the APA, is attempting to directly confront and understand its historical contributions to maintaining systems of racism and, in the case of this paper, colonialism.


I came about this project accidentally, as I was digging through a different collection at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron. The psychologist I was reading about spent some time under Porteus. I hadn't heard of Stanley Porteus, but began reading through his papers there. Realizing just how meaningful and contentious the naming controversy was, I kept it in mind. A couple of years later, coinciding with several naming controversies across the USA and Canada, I began the project in earnest. With the help of students, colleagues, and archivists (most importantly those at the University of Hawaiʻi), I began to piece together this history. I'm honored to have participated and tried to understand this history, but I acknowledge that as an outsider scholar it is not my story. Any misunderstandings are my own. I have tried to emphasize the voices of the community in my article. There is more to uncover by moving away from the archive and printed materials toward interviewing community members today.

Ian Davidson
Concordia University of Edmonton

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Building on racism: The Porteus Hall controversy at the University of Hawai‘i., American Psychologist, July 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/amp0001160.
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