Hasan: What’s in a name?

In Minnesota, we seem to be proud of our past racism. It’s kept us from making any form of progress when it comes to renaming significant sites in the Twin Cities.

by Aleezeh Hasan

During the last week, I have found myself extremely disappointed by my home state. As a native Minnesotan, I would like to believe that our “Minnesota nice” is real and that we have reasons to love and brag about our state. Unfortunately, two major events in the last week make that difficult.

First, our own University of Minnesota Board of Regents rejected the idea of renaming Coffman Union 10-1. I was appalled that the regents seemed to care so deeply for a building named after a man that appears to have openly supported social segregation. Lotus Coffman was racist, according to the task force’s report. While students have pushed for a change in the student union that upholds his legacy, the regents have failed us.

Meanwhile, the nearby lake Bde Maka Ska could revert back to its former name, Lake Calhoun. It would then bear the name of a known supporter of slavery. As Minnesotans, it is disgusting that we want to keep this name on one of our most beautiful lakes and areas. Bde Maka Ska should be its rightful name, as that was the lake’s name before white settlers came to the land.

While a name can only do so much, it is the first step to reach equality within our state. Minnesotans might brag about how blue we are, but in this moment it is clear that bigotry is upheld within our state. The refusal to change these names leads to acceptance of the actions of people like Coffman and Calhoun.

Personally, I do not feel any pride living in a state where we do not condemn the racist actions of historical figures. While some might argue it is erasure, the awareness of history is something that will actually be spread through the name change. Rather than everyone just accepting the names of past racists, the change will garner attention and people will acknowledge the past.

When so many have supported these name changes, it becomes clear that Twin Cities residents are not fairly represented. The University’s Board of Regents does not do justice or push for students’ concerns. Our University cannot claim to be accepting of all students when we continue to normalize and praise the name of someone that was anti-black and anti-Semitic. Even if Coffman made notable changes to the University community during his time, his viewpoints are now outdated. Currently, the regents are sending a message that says past racism doesn’t matter if the person made a difference within the University.

As Minnesotans, it is up to us to continue fighting for the names to be changed. We should all continue calling it Bde Maka Ska and refer to Coffman as just Memorial Union, ending the justification of past racism.