Portrait sparks MSA debate

Tracy Ellingson

Minnesota Student Association members decided Tuesday that they need more information in order to support the removal of a portrait from Wilson Library.
The group sent a controversial resolution regarding a portrait of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger back to the group’s Academic Affairs Committee for review.
The resolution cites that Sanger was allegedly a racist who promoted Nazi ideology. It requests that Wilson Library staff remove a picture of the birth control pioneer from a display in the library. The resolution would also ask Boynton Health Service to stop using Sanger in an advertisement promoting an early contraceptive program.
The forum debate ended in a 26-4 vote to send the resolution to the committee, where committee chairman Corey Donovan said he will hold an open forum to discuss the resolution at the group’s next meeting.
Sanger’s picture is part of a series called “Explore Great Minds Through the Library.” It hangs in the stairwell between the first and basement floors. The American Library Association gave the series to the library in 1988, and it also includes pictures of and quotes by Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Several MSA members asked resolution authors Tom Gromacki, Bill Gilles, Ben Powers and Eric Watkins to clarify the reason for their proposal during Tuesday’s forum.
Gromacki said the reason for the resolution was clear. “Do we want to tell the minority students at this University that we are going to help glorify someone who upheld such abhorred beliefs?” said Gromacki, who introduced the resolution at the forum after finding material that traced Sanger to work in eugenics.
Eugenics is the study of eliminating “undesirable” racial or hereditary characteristics by controlled breeding or genetic manipulation of humans.
College of Liberal Arts Senator Robert Baker questioned whether the resolution was aimed at Sanger because she was the founder of Planned Parenthood rather than because of her racist ideology. Gromacki, who is a Republican and staunch pro-life advocate, is running for the 59B House seat in the state Legislature.
CLA Senator Susanna Beying read a statement from Camara Refined Earth, the chair of the Africana Student Cultural Center. In her statement, Refined Earth said, “Some of the authors of this resolution have exhibited blatant insensitivity and disrespect for the University’s minority community.”
Refined Earth added that if the authors could provide students with supporting evidence for the powerful statements they made about Sanger, she would support the resolution.
In response to the requests to reveal his sources, Gromacki said that Sanger’s own sources documented the fact that she was a racist.
He said Sanger attended Ku Klux Klan meetings and she said in her writings that she wanted to “create a race of thoroughbreds.”
University Librarian Tom Shaughnessy said one student questioned Sanger’s part in the series when it was first displayed. The library staff issued a written statement at that time explaining the controversial figure’s place in the library.
“I respect (the resolution’s authors’) perfect right not to like these things,” Shaughnessy said, “but if students think about how important free and open libraries are, they would rethink any resolution they would pass.”