Since just after its founding in 1795, Union’s motto has read, “Sous les lois de Minerve nous devenons tous frères,” but, in a historic move last week, the Board of Trustees announced that “et sœurs” will be added onto the end in an attempt to be inclusive toward women. The change has received mixed reviews from students and alumni alike.
Evan Leibovitz ’15 and Peter Durkin ’16 spearheaded the recent effort to change the motto. According to Union, Durkin and Leibovitz’s proposal was unanimously passed in January 2015 by Student Forum and had support of the Alumni Council and the Faculty Executive Committee.
Durkin, who currently serves as the senior student trustee, said, “The change was needed to recognize the importance and the many contributions of women since the College became a coeducational institution.”
Though he and Leibovitz, a former student trustee, drew up the proposal, many female students on campus were key supporters.
Erin Wade ’16, editor-in-chief of the Concordiensis, said, “While not groundbreaking, this change to the motto was long overdue. Now the motto reflects Union’s coeducational status and acknowledges the women who have been attending this institution since 1970. I was saying last October that this change should occur, and I’ve been quite passionate about it, so I’m pleased that the motto has been changed to be more inclusive of the 48 percent of Union’s population that the motto used to exclude.”
Moreover, many alumni have responded positively to the change. Shayna Han ’15 said, “As an alumna, I love Union and the seal and motto on the head of Minerva. But now that I’m included in the motto, I can finally say that ‘we are Union’ – brothers and sisters in academia as well as in life.”
But some alumni responses to the change are not unanimous in support. One person posted on the Facebook page, “I think they should have left history alone.”
Others think the emphasis on gender itself should go. Drew McCalmont ’16 said, “While the change is a step in the right direction, I think the motto should exclude gender altogether. A suggestion made in the past was to make the motto ‘Sous les lois de Minerve nous devenons tous unis,’ which means ‘Under the laws of Minerva, we become united.’ ”
The new motto will read: “Sous les lois de Minerve nous devenons tous frères et sœurs,” which means, “Under the laws of Minerva, we all become brothers and sisters.”
It adds “et sœurs, meaning “and sisters,” to the existing motto, which previously translated to, “Under the laws of Minerva, we all become brothers.”
In a statement published by Union, President Stephen C. Ainlay said, “We respect the tradition of the words carefully chosen by our original trustees, but it’s important that those words now make explicitly clear that Union is a place of inclusion and a shared intellectual mission for all.”
According to the “Encyclopedia of Union College History,” a trustee committee made up of Abraham Ten Boreck, Goldsbrow Banyar, Stephen Van Rensselaer and Henry Walton created the original motto, making it official on Nov. 30, 1796. At the time, the motto most likely alluded to Union’s general acceptance of sons of workingmen.
But when Union first began admitting women in 1970, several efforts from both students and faculty proposed changing the motto to include women or to remove reference to gender completely.
The college states that it will gradually replace the old seal on its stationary, campus buildings and podiums to reflect the change to the motto.