BY SABIRA KHAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 30, 2011
The University often promotes its commitment to diversity and boasts about its diverse student body. This dedication to maintaining a heterogeneous University community, however, isn’t reflected in campus building namesakes.
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Only one University building, the Trotter Multicultural Center, is named after a person who is a minority. University officials said the lack of representation through campus building names isn’t deliberate, and there are other areas on campus named after minorities. Other members of the University community expressed mixed feelings, including pride and disappointment, of what this represents.
The Trotter Multicultural Center, located at 1443 Washtenaw Ave., is named after William Monroe Trotter, who was a prominent African American civil rights activist in the early 20th century. With civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, Trotter founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
John Matlock, the University’s associate vice provost and director of the University’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, wrote in an e-mail interview that there are several spaces on campus named after African American individuals, but the Trotter Multicultural Center is the only building that honors an African American person.
“In the residence halls, there are lounges named after people of color but … there are no academic or non-academic facilities named after a person of color,” Matlock wrote.
According to the University Housing website, within the University’s residence halls there are 11 “minority-cultural lounges” out of a total of 50 lounges. These include the Rosa Parks Lounge in Stockwell, Mahatma Gandhi Lounge in Oxford and Martin Luther King Jr. Lounge in Bursley. There are also three “multicultural theme lounges” in three different residents halls, the website states.
According to a University Housing document titled “The Purposes and Histories of Multicultural Theme & Minority-cultural Lounges,” the minority-cultural lounges — the first of which was created in the early 1970s — are meant for use by the multicultural councils and the Minority Peer Advisor programs in the residence halls.
“The programming and other activities of the lounges are directed toward federally recognized students of color living in the residence halls. These lounges were created to provide students of color the opportunity to interact with one another in a relaxed and open environment. They are havens for support, solidarity and sharing among students of color and those interested in their concerns,” the document states.
The document also states, “It is the goal of University Housing to maintain these facilities as part of its overall effort to support the appreciation of diversity within human populations, stimulate intercultural interaction and understanding and provide supportive environments for all students.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail interview that there are few opportunities to name buildings after people, and it’s not intentional that only one building on campus is named after a minority.
“By and large, buildings at the University are named in honor of past presidents and major donors who have helped substantially to underwrite the costs of construction,” Fitzgerald wrote.
Nina Grant, director of the University’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and the Trotter Multicultural Center, wrote in an e-mail interview that she is proud the center is named after “a distinguished person of color.”
“We are glad to be part of the University’s many and varied efforts to advance racial and cultural understanding and appreciation — far beyond names associated with buildings,” she wrote.
Jessica Thompson, the operations and event coordinator at the Trotter Multicultural Center, said she is honored to work in the only University building named after an African American.
“I feel, being an employee of the Trotter Multicultural Center, that I’ve got to fully give my all here,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to really make this center known on campus.”
Thompson said the building being named after someone belonging to a minority group is a source of inspiration, not something to be criticized.
“It just indicates that there is much more progress that is needed,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, but if anything, it should definitely indicate to all of us here at the University of Michigan that we’ve got to continue to do better.”
Engineering senior Sean Preston, president of the University’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, said he understands why so few buildings are named after minorities. He said when he thinks about buildings being named for people, the first thing that comes to mind is individuals who have made significant donations to the University.
“I’m not really surprised, but with regards to the future, I think that the first step is to get significant people at the University ... so we have significant contributors to the University who are African American,” Preston said.
Still, Preston said it’s more important to increase underrepresented minority enrollment at the University rather than focus on who campus buildings are named for.
“Personally, I would rather see more people here from underrepresented communities than buildings,” he said. “I’d be more interested in seeing people come to the University as hired (administrators) or tenured faculty than buildings. (Buildings are) the next step.”
Currently, underrepresented minority student enrollment is at 10.6 percent of the University's freshman class — an increase from last year's 9.1 percent, according to a Oct. 25, 2010 Michigan Daily article. But according to the article, the rise may be attributed to a change in the gathering and reporting of data as mandated by the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
LSA junior Ryanna Robinson, president of the community service student group the Black Volunteer Network, said she isn’t surprised there is just one building named after a minority. She added that this lack of representation reflects the campus community’s deficiency in recognition of minority individuals.
“I just think the University as a whole needs to acknowledge people of color more,” she said.