After Andersen Library exhibit, student body president hopes Coffman Union will be renamed

Trish Palermo called for renaming Coffman Memorial Union last week, though MSA has not taken a stance.

Students relax outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Jack Rodgers

Students relax outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Max Chao

The University of Minnesota student body president recently voiced support for changing the name of Coffman Memorial Union.

After a new campus exhibit drew attention to racial segregation in the University’s history, Student Body President Trish Palermo called for the renaming of the campus staple through Facebook and Twitter earlier this month.

The exhibit in Andersen Library, called “A Campus Divided,” chronicles the systematic housing segregation of African-American and Jewish students carried out by campus administrators in the mid-20th century. 

One of these administrators was Lotus D. Coffman, former president of the University and namesake of Coffman Memorial Union. Coffman Union’s second floor houses many of the school’s cultural student groups. 

“I ask you all to join me in becoming more informed and acknowledging the blatant irony of housing the cultural student groups in a building named after the man who did everything in his power to keep the University segregated. I fully support the ask to rename Coffman,” Palermo said in her Facebook post.

Despite Palermo’s statements, the Minnesota Student Association hasn’t taken a stance on the issue, said Mina Kian, ranking representative to the Board of Regents for MSA.

“If any proposal does come through our forum, we would be more than willing to discuss it in our forum body,” Kian said.

University President Eric Kaler spoke with the Daily about the naming controversy during a Thursday interview.  

Before renaming buildings, Kaler said it is important to assess “…the total impact, the weight of accomplishments that an individual provided to the University. Many of those accomplishments are positive, of course. But then we need to use judgment and careful consideration and balance between the good things that were done and things that were not appropriate.”

At the moment, it is too early to tell whether or not the school will consider changing the name of one of the most prominent campus buildings.

“Naming a building after someone is such an honor and when we are honoring a person, we are honoring their legacy,” Palermo said in an emailed statement. “The ‘legacy’ of President Coffman, and many others, are ones of racism and oppression.”

Jonathan Du contributed reporting to this story.