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From Benton Center to Bernstein Hall

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Ƶ’s Center for Arts, Creativity, and Innovation, which is nearing completion and expected to open in the fall, will be named Bernstein Hall in honor of the lead donor’s genealogical roots.

When Dan Benton ’80, H’10, P’10, decided to support the creation of a new center designed to bring together the arts and technology through a $25 million principal gift, the new anchor building on Ƶ’s Middle Campus was announced in 2021 as the Benton Center.

For Benton — who made his first gift of $15 to Ƶ as an undergraduate in his senior year and has donated to the University every year since — the name of the building became something he spent considerable time contemplating as construction continued.

It was during construction that Benton read a history of Jews at Ƶ, written by six Ƶ students and titled, Repression, Re-Invention, and Rugelach: A History of Jews at Ƶ. That book, edited by Professor of Jewish Studies and Russian and Eurasian Studies Alice Nakhimovsky, was created as a culmination of a Jewish Studies seminar course and paints an unvarnished picture of a time when the Jewish experience on campus was marred by admission quotas and bias.

Reading about the history of Jews at Ƶ caused Benton to reflect on his own family history, and he started to consider changing the name of the new building to honor his family’s Jewish identity. Benton’s grandfather had changed his family’s last name from Bernstein to Benton in the 1940s to defend against rampant anti-semitism of the era.

In late October, Benton made the decision to explicitly connect his identity and his family's legacy to his support of his alma mater, officially giving the new building the name Bernstein Hall.

“In choosing to dedicate this building as Bernstein Hall, I honor my family’s history. I underscore our resilience and the resilience of the Jewish people,” Benton said. “And just as the blending of the arts, entrepreneurship, and computer science has magical potential, so does the blending of diverse thought, talent, and ethnicity in a student body. It enriches everything. And with both at work, we deliver on our mission to prepare our students to navigate the challenges of the world they will graduate into. Isn’t this what the liberal arts must do?

“As a leading donor to Ƶ, I am dedicated to working with, rather than against, President Brian Casey, Provost Lesleigh Cushing, my fellow trustees, and the rest of the administration, faculty, students, and alumni. I hope that Ƶ will set an example for other universities by understanding how freedom of expression coexists and integrates with a diverse and inclusive community.”

For President Brian W. Casey, seeing the new building’s structure take form between the James C. Ƶ Student Union and Dana Arts Center is a major milestone in the University’s plans for an expanded Middle Campus and a clear signal of Ƶ’s commitment to the Initiative in Arts, Creativity, and Innovation. Casey, a historian by training, notes that the renaming also harkens to other moments of history at Ƶ.

“From the Benton Scholars program to the excellent career services offerings in Benton Hall, Dan’s commitment to the liberal arts at Ƶ and to our students is clear. And now he is helping us recognize part of our past in a thoughtful way,” said Casey. “Jewish students, faculty, and staff have persevered on this campus throughout the years, even in the face of profound discrimination during the Cutten administration and beyond. Naming Bernstein Hall may help to address and ameliorate this history. It feels reminiscent of when we were able to name a building in the academic core of the campus for one of our first women faculty members, Jane Pinchin. Naming buildings and places can help a college recognize those who have gone before and who have shaped an institution. The buildings of a campus can, and ought to, reflect the history of those who have been here as students, staff, and scholars.”

Faculty, staff, and students will utilize the building, slated for completion this summer, in the fall semester for classes and creative endeavors facilitated by the building’s fabrication labs, a robotics lab, a digital recording studio, five computer labs, an experimental exhibition and performance space, a media archaeology lab, and flexible classrooms.

Lesleigh Cushing, provost and dean of the faculty and Murray W. and Mildred K. Finard Chair in Jewish studies, describes the new building as dynamic and exciting.

“We brought together faculty from a range of disciplines to see what they could imagine at the intersection of visual arts, technology, theater, dance, music, and innovation. The building is a material manifestation of their imagination — a place where students can experiment, try new things, learn with the newest technologies,” Cushing said. “The building will be welcoming and inviting not just to the concentrator who is immersed deeply in the fields of film and media studies or computer science, but also to the student who has come for an event or to explore a course outside their regular fields of study. From Whitnall Field and Peter’s Glen, the building will draw people in. It will be a place on campus where curious, creative students can let their imaginations really roam.”