MINNEAPOLIS - Name changes. We've seen the names of buildings and historic landmarks change names or move.
In Minneapolis, the city recently changed the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska. And now, students at the University of Minnesota are calling to change the name of Coffman Memorial Union which bears the name of its fifth president, Lotus Coffman.
Students say they want the name changed after a recent exhibit revealed a discriminatory act in the school’s history.
The exhibit, which is now showcased online, is called, “A campus divided: Progressives, Anticommunists, Racism and Anti-Semitism at the University of Minnesota 1930-1942.”
According to the exhibit, University of Minnesota presidents, deans, and other administrators routinely surveilled students and faculty for their political beliefs and activities the exhibit says. They attacked progressive student activism in order to create a campus in the narrow and distorted image of an “America First” nation.
It also says Jews and blacks were counted separately from all other students.
The information was sent directly to President Coffman who constantly monitored the number of Jewish and African American students and their housing needs.
This news was surprising to some of the students now calling for change. U of M Junior Chloe Williams created a petition to change the name of the building. She’s collected more than 4,700 signatures.
“It went over the practices from President Coffman choosing to segregate our living situation on campus and not allowing students such as black students to be in the dorms. Segregation was illegal in Minnesota then,” she said. “The university values diversity and inclusion. We should parallel our actions with our values. Especially on campus. The exhibit highlighted such problematic history but that is not who we are today.”
In 1885, Minnesota passed the Equal Accommodations Act, which guaranteed blacks equal access to all public places and hotels.
Tuesday, Williams and members of the student body planned to vote on a resolution which will later be delivered to President Eric Kaler.
At the request of President Kaler, Williams said she and other students are members of a group considering factors that go into renaming University buildings. U of M Freshman, Jael Kerandi, is also a member of the group.
“What do we want our legacy to be? How do we want to leave this place?” Jael Kerandi said. “Let students understand they are in a place where they are included and part of that comes from acknowledging that past.”
In addition to changing the name of the union, the students also want the exhibit displayed on campus permanently.