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The University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel’s Advisory Committee on University History has outlined a process to consider a building name change request due to students questioning buildings named after those who have not openly supported civil rights or equality, as well as the lack of buildings named after women and minorities.
The new policy comes in light of the University’s bicentennial, which celebrates and examines the University’s history. On campus, there are few buildings named after females and only one named after an African American: the Trotter Multicultural Center.
The policy also comes after the University’s Board of Regents approved changing the name of the Trotter Center to the Bernstein-Bendit Hall last Spring after Regent Mark Bernstein (D) and his wife Rachel Bendit offered a $3 million gift for the center. Many students protested the name on social media, arguing the change would remove the legacy of William Trotter, a known Black and civil rights activist. However, the gift was revoked three months after the Regents approved it, as Bernstein recognized student concerns for the building’s namesake.
Terry McDonald, the director of the Bentley Historical Library and chair of the advisory committee, developed a set of principles to guide the evaluation of whether or not a name change should be implemented.
According to McDonald in a University Record release, the complexity of such an evaluation causes the principles to be less defined than a checklist.
“We do not believe that historical questions about the names of buildings or spaces can be answered by means of a checklist,” McDonald wrote in the committee’s report to Schlissel, according to the release. “Indeed, given the nature of our institution and its history, such questions bring into play principles that already exist — sometimes in tension — with the university.”
The principles are based on pedagogy, commitment, contemporary and historical context, consistency and revision, among other criteria.
LSA sophomore Ayah Issa felt that having a more definitive process for renaming could facilitate more thoughtful considerations for name changes.
“A white man almost had his name on a multicultural building,” said Issa. “It is a big step out of the gray area for the University to implement this policy.”
Additionally, Issa said bringing the topic of renaming into the spotlight could encourage people to propose more representative names.
“It would be amazing to have more buildings named after African Americans and women,” said Issa. “Especially since the University is working on their DEI plan, now would be a good time to reexamine if the University’s historical roots match up with fair representation.
All proposals must be held accountable for legal analysis and follow the 2008 policy for renaming that was adopted by the Board of Regents. The board is also the final approval for proposed changes.
The new process allows for any University community member to propose name changes, but the decision ultimately rests on Schlissel and the board.
“It is immensely important to me, and to the entire university community, that we take a scholarly approach to any review of historical building names and put that review in the appropriate context,” Schlissel said in the press release.