Students respond to regents’ vote to keep building names

Dozens of students showed up to the special session to protest and many snuck in signs despite a poster ban.

Student demonstrators hold up signs in protest of the Board of Regents' position on building renaming during the special session on Friday, April 26. The board voted against the renaming of four buildings on campus after more than a year of community discussion on the issue.

Jack Rodgers

Student demonstrators hold up signs in protest of the Board of Regents’ position on building renaming during the special session on Friday, April 26. The board voted against the renaming of four buildings on campus after more than a year of community discussion on the issue.

Niamh Coomey

The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents voted Friday against renaming Coffman Union and several other campus buildings. Dozens of students showed up to the special session in protest and many expressed disappointment with the board’s decision. 

The Minnesota Student Association has been closely involved with the renaming process. They passed a resolution last year suggesting that Coffman Union, Coffey Hall, Nicholson Hall and Middlebrook Hall be renamed after a campus exhibit showcased their namesakes’ racist and anti-Semitic history. MSA members, in addition to many students outside student government, attended the meeting holding signs and wearing white for solidarity. 

Large posters and signs made by MSA members were confiscated by security, but members still snuck in folded paper signs bearing statements such as, “Unname Coffman,” “Unname Nicholson” and “Fund the archives.” MSA President Simran Mishra noted the large police presence at the event, and expressed her disappointment that students signs were confiscated.

MSA Vice President Mina Kian said she is both disappointed with the results of the meeting and proud of her fellow students.

“A part of me is grossly disappointed that the voices of students and faculty were dismissed throughout this process,” Kian said. “While I recognize that there were small steps of progress made, the largest ask as students was not truly heard … I feel that we’ve failed to fully reckon with our history.”

MSA representative to the Student Senate Consultative Committee Amy Ma said she was also disappointed with the result of the session, particularly after seeing the large student turnout. 

“You could definitely feel just the energy of just how much people deeply care about this issue and so I think it was really disappointing to see just how easily those last two resolutions passed,” Ma said. 

MSA Infrastructure Committee Director Lauren Meyers expressed her happiness with the student turnout as well, noting the amount of non-student government students in attendance. Many students crowded outside the board room even after it was filled to capacity.

“Even though things might have not come out perfectly, I think that students showed up in a way that we haven’t seen students show up at a Board of Regents meeting in a long time,” Meyers said. “I hope that the regents take away from this how important this matter is to us and that students are willing to show up and hold the regents accountable.”

Several faculty members were vocal at the meeting as well. K.C. Harrison, a faculty member in the School of Social Work, shouted comments at the board throughout the event. 

“Time and time again, I’ve seen this University fail to live up to its stated mission of educating a diverse population and leading in the fields of equity and diversity. … So I think that changing the building names in response to student demands is a very small step,” Harrison said. “I think it’s a typical pattern of white supremacy just to be defensive and dismissive.”

Natasha Sohni, MSA ranking at-large representative, said she was embarrassed of how the session was handled.

“I think the way this meeting went down was kind of embarrassing. It makes me feel embarrassed to be a student at this University, to be represented by these people,” she said. “It didn’t feel like they took into consideration all of the thoughts that everyone who came here had to say, and I honestly think they should be ashamed of themselves,” she said. 

Mishra said it was moving to see so many members of the University community come together over the issue, and that she hopes to see work continue. 

“I think the power of the community was felt in this room it was felt outside of this room where people waited and I think there is a lot more work to be done,” Mishra said.