Faculty, staff and students discuss moving forward on reckoning with University’s past

An event hosted in Coffman Union on Thursday created a space for discussion about how to educate on the University’s institutional history.

Anjali Oleksy, a sophomore at the university, poses for a portrait during the campus conversation, “Our University History: Understand, Acknowledge, Engage” in Coffman Union on Thursday Nov. 14.

Sydni Rose

Anjali Oleksy, a sophomore at the university, poses for a portrait during the campus conversation, “Our University History: Understand, Acknowledge, Engage” in Coffman Union on Thursday Nov. 14.

Niamh Coomey

Staff, faculty and students gathered at Coffman Union Thursday to discuss how to reckon with controversial aspects of the University of Minnesota’s institutional history.

After the Board of Regents voted against renaming several campus buildings this spring, they passed a resolution in support of fostering more educational opportunities to explore the University’s history. Sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, several faculty committees and offices on campus, including the Minnesota Student Association, the event was a step toward accomplishing that resolution. Attendees participated in round table discussions, sharing their perspectives and suggestions for moving forward. 

Third-year student Nikil Badey said the initial renaming conversation has diverged into a much larger discussion at the University about institutional history. 

The board’s decision not to rename the buildings in question was “the greatest victory that I’ve ever received from a loss,” Badey said. He has been involved with advocacy around renaming efforts for the last couple of years.

Second-year student Anjali Oleksy said she thinks having an active voice as a student when there are opportunities for discussion is important. 

“The more students that come, the more … people of color voices that are heard, I think it’s always beneficial,” she said. “There’s a need and there’s a want for these types of like, conversation events.” 

Third-year student Tala Alfoqaha, who has advocated for efforts to reckon with the University’s history, said many groups on campus have been working on this topic. She said the goal now is to come together in a cohesive and productive way.

“The regents did all vote in favor of [that] reckoning piece, which is really the hard part, but now, you know, we want to hold them to task for that vote,” she said. “We want the University to take actions and do more than have conversations about it.”

Going forward, Badey said one goal could be more prominently acknowledging that the University stands on Native land. He also said the University should examine functions such as ethical research practices, asking the question of whether communities are being tokenized and whether the University is giving back enough.

Alfoqaha noted that the communities immediately surrounding the University look very different than the demographics at the University itself. The University still has an exclusionary aspect to it that needs to be addressed, she said.

“There’s so many things we can do policy-wise to like, actually show our commitment to diversity is more than just, like, optics,” Alfoqaha said.

Monica Kocon, a business and systems analyst on the MyU portal team who attended the event, said the discussion was valuable because topics that are relevant to staff and faculty were brought to the table as well. 

Kocon said ideas that were brought up in discussion, such as a potential online training module on institutional history, could be helpful tools to learn about institutional history and move forward.

“I just think there’s so much opportunity for outreach and so much opportunity to make this institution better,” Oleksy said.