UMN students protest for renaming of buildings and increased awareness of history

Students marched silently across campus following the “A Campus Divided” exhibit.

by Helen Sabrowsky

A campus protest called for the renaming of some campus buildings in a continuation of an ongoing debate spurred by a recent exhibit.

A group of about 50 people silently marched across the University of Minnesota campus Wednesday to draw attention to the University’s history of discrimination and demand that buildings named after some past administrators be renamed.

The march, which was organized by the Minnesota Student Association and other students, was in response to the “A Campus Divided” exhibit last fall. The exhibit presented the deeds of past University administrators who implemented racially segregated housing and suppressed student activism on campus.

“We want students to be aware of what has happened on this campus and why we’re trying to improve it and how it has affected students in the past and continues to affect students today,” said Chloe Williams, director of MSA’s diversity and inclusion committee.

From 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., a group marched in silence from Middlebrook Hall to Coffman Union, only speaking to recite poetry and read documents in front of four buildings named after individuals featured in the exhibit, such as Nicholson Hall and Shevlin Hall.

The group marched in silence to represent the voices silenced by the University administration, Williams said.

Jana Gierden, a Ph.D. candidate in German Studies at the University who helped organize the march, said she was inspired to draw attention to the University’s history of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-communism after seeing the exhibit last year.

Gierden said she approached the Diversity and Inclusion committee because they were doing similar work to address the issue.

Attendees ranged from students to faculty members.

“It was almost embarrassing to not know about the history of the University as a lecturer on education during the fifties and sixties,” said Emily Capper, a lecturer in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University.

Students not associated with MSA were also in attendance. 

“The University has a history of persecuting communists and there’s a slogan in the labor movement, ‘an injury to one is an injury to all,’ so I came here to highlight that anti-communism isn’t just an American problem, it’s an international issue,” said Arman Ebrahimi, an officer in Students for Revolutionary Socialism.

Many students at the University aren’t aware of its history, Williams said.

“We hope that by creating awareness, we will create a voice to ask the University to rename its buildings while also keeping students aware of the history of this campus.”

The march is the latest demonstration supporting the renaming of campus buildings in response to the exhibit. In March, MSA passed a resolution supporting the renaming of Coffman Union to “Memorial Union.”