Editorial: Renaming Coffman is necessary but insufficient

The front of Coffman Memorial Union as seen on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Jack Rodgers

The front of Coffman Memorial Union as seen on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

by Daily Editorial Board

The Coffman Memorial Union’s heritage courses through our campus history. It has long been a place for students to meet, and spend their time, immersed in the college experience. Various multicultural student groups, as well as the Minnesota Student Association, have offices confined in its walls. The building hosts a plethora of entertainment options for students to enjoy on a relaxing Saturday evening, and food options for weary students who forgot to snag breakfast or pack lunch. 

But its history is marred permanently by the actions of former University of Minnesota President Lotus D. Coffman, whose legacy is plagued with racist and bigoted stances, such as segregated housing and oppressing opposition to challenges against antisemitism. Undoubtedly, any type of glorification of Coffman should not be tolerated on our campus that demands inclusion and mutual respect among its entire student body. 

Efforts aimed to rename the building are well-founded, but incomplete. University President Eric Kaler has initiated a committee to review the historical wrongdoings recently presented by a display showcasing the University’s antisemitic and racist past. The committee’s principal objective is how to acknowledge this past while shaping the future.

We believe that renaming the building is necessary, but insufficient. Recent demands by Student Body President Trish Palermo are well placed, but offer no real tangible solution to the lasting scars on our campus. By simply changing the name, students in future generations may forget the historical aggression brought out by former University administrations. This is absolutely undesirable, and future student bodies, including our own, must confront the problems head on. This requires efforts centered around education and necessitates infrastructural changes. Condensing the movement to a catchphrase like “Rename Coffman” is not only problematic, but highly simplistic. It ignores the vastness of the issues the University has. Coffman should not become a building still widely referred to by its former name, as is the renamed Bruininks Hall, formerly STSS. 

Instead, we ask that the University make permanent the “A Campus Divided” exhibit in Coffman, the building which explicitly contextualizes the recent findings. All future students should be exposed to the ugly history of our campus and the actions by previous University administrations. Furthermore, the University should also investigate other past administrations to get a full scope of the problems.

More importantly, this effort should be contextualized in a broader movement across the country to recognize the injustices that so many groups have faced. The United States often assumes an upper hand when it comes to travesties of human rights, when in fact, many public and private institutions within our country have committed unmentionable travesties. As students and leaders for future generations, it’s our civic duty to expose the naked truth and work hard to fix it. Of course we believe that Coffman Memorial Union should be renamed, but this step should play a small part in a larger movement on campus to unearth the infrastructural injustices at the University.