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In light of the administration’s initiative announced last fall to assemble a task force to help diversify the names of campus spaces, an analysis by The Michigan Daily of 103 on-campus buildings at the University of Michigan found that only one — the Trotter Multicultural Center — is named after a person of color. Trotter is named after William Monroe Trotter, a newspaper editor and activist for Black civil rights. This leaves 99.3% of the buildings included in The Daily’s analysis named for or endowed in the names of white people — the large majority of whom were white men.
A vast majority — 78.2% — of these buildings are named after men. Only 9.9% of the buildings analyzed by The Daily are named after women, while 11.9% were named for couples.
The Daily’s analysis found that 28% of buildings were named for former administrators, while 24% of the buildings were named for donors to the University. In addition, 25% of buildings were named for alumni and 10.6% after professors.
The University announced in the fall that a task force of faculty, staff, students and administrators would convene this winter to develop a more diverse pool of names for campus spaces, according to the University Record.
The goal is for more named campus spaces that reflect the breadth of backgrounds and perspectives of people who have vitally shaped U-M’s teaching, research and service missions,” the Record article states.
In 2016, the University planned on naming a new building to house the William Trotter Multicultural Center after Regent (D) Mark Bernstein and his wife. Students pushed back against the University’s decision, citing it would erase the legacy of William Trotter, a prominent Black activist and co-founder of a 1905 civil rights organization. Bernstein withdrew his pledged $3 million donation to center after the naming controversy.
Some of the buildings are named after controversial figures. W.K. Kellogg, the namesake for the Kellogg Eye Center, was a known eugenicist who advocated for “racial purity.” Angell Hall is named after the third University president James Angell, who championed accessible education but also drafted the predecessor treaty to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1862, which barred immigration of Chinese workers. The Taubman College of Architecture is named for billionaire Alfred Taubman, who was convicted on two counts of price-fixing in 2002.
In 2018, the University’s Board of Regents voted to remove Clarence Cook Little’s name from the science building named for him after sustained student protest against the name — the building was renamed the North University Building. Little, president of the University from 1925 to 1929, was also the former president of the American Eugenics Society and believed in restricting immigration and in forced sterilization.
A review of University demographics data compared to the demographics of building namesakes revealed a wide gap between the diversity of the campus population and the demographics of people its buildings are named after.
Tracking enrollee demographics
Records in the Bentley Historical Library contain limited enrollment data from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most years do not contain any demographic data based on race/ethnicity or gender.
In an email to The Daily, Brian A. Williams, assistant director and archivist for University History, wrote that the University did not track data on students’ races until the late 1960s. Williams is currently leading a project to identify every Black student that attended the University from its founding to the Black Action Movement in 1970.
According to records in the Bentley Historical Library, Samuel Codes Watson, a medical student admitted to the University in 1853, is known as the first Black student to be admitted to any school or college within the University. Because the University was not required to track students’ races until the 1960s, it is possible there was another Black student who attended before him.
In 1870, Madelon Louisa Stockwell became the first woman to be admitted — Stockwell Hall is named after her. Mary Henrietta Graham, the first Black woman to attend the University, was admitted in 1876.
Gender breakdown of enrollees
In 1922-1923, the first year on file where gender data of enrolled students at the University is recorded, women made up 33.8% of total enrollment. In 1930, 37.0% of the University’s total enrollment was female.
From 1942-1945, women made up 52.4% of total enrollment — the steep rise likely came as a result of the Second World War. In 1955, this number dropped to 32.3%. From 1966-1967, the most recent year of historical data available until 2009, female students were 36.7% of the University’s total enrollment.
The Michigan Almanac, which provides enrollment demographics from 2009 to the present, shows a near 50-50 male to female ratio in the University’s current undergraduate enrollment.
The report shows there was a less even gender split among graduate and professional students from 2009 to 2015, with males making up 10% more enrolled students. This ratio has evened out in past years and was equally split among men and women in 2019.
White undergraduate enrollment decreased from 65% to 55% from 2010 to 2019, while Asian American undergraduate enrollment increased by 5 percentage points to 15% over the past decade.
Black undergraduate enrollment remained at 3-5% over the decade. These numbers sharply decreased after Michigan voters passed Proposal 2 in 2006, which effectively banned affirmative action in the admissions process. In the year before Proposal 2 was passed, Black students made up 13% of total student enrollment. In 2019, Latinx students made up 7% of the student body, with Native American and Hawiian students both making up 0%.
Racial and ethnic distribution of graduate students at the University from 2010 to 2019 saw a decrease in white enrollment from 52% to 45%, and slight increases in Latinx and Black enrollment. Black enrollment remained around 3%, consistent with undergraduate numbers.
In a recent interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said the University must elevate its commitment to Black students in the months and years to come.
“We’ve worked hard and we’ve only been modestly successful increasing the representation, not just of African Americans, but of many other underrepresented groups on campus,” Schlissel said.
While the University instituted the Summer Bridge Scholars program and the Community Scholar Program decades ago to help incoming Black students adjust to campus life at the University of Michigan, the program has become significantly more white in recent years. The Go Blue Guarantee, which offers full tuition to Michigan residents whose families make less than $65,000 per year, has increased the number of lower-income students at the University but increased Black enrollment has not followed since its establishment in 2018.
U-M community discusses racial and gender disparities in the naming of campus buildings
LSA senior Thomas Vance, president of the Black Student Union, said he was not surprised to hear that these disparities in the diversity of building namesakes exist because of the lack of racial diversity among the student body.
Vance said there needs to be greater consideration of how the people that the University names buildings after impacted the University. For Vance, automatically naming buildings after former presidents is a misguided approach.
“We can’t just keep naming s— after old white guys because of their status,” Vance said. “I think we should give the students who were there at that time a little bit of say. Whether they fill out a form to talk about their experiences at the University under that president, whether it’s direct interactions with whoever they want to name the building after.”
LSA sophomore Madelin Chau said she hopes the University will keep in mind the many women faculty and achievements of women when naming buildings in the future.
“I think the question should not be if women should be acknowledged and recognized, but which ones,” Chau said.
Vance said he hoped to see a building named for Niara Sudarkasa, the University’s first tenured Black professor and first Black female director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies. Sudarkasa also served as associate vice president for academic affairs until she left the University in 1986. Vance said naming the building after her would honor her dedication to amplifying Black voices on campus.
“She was met with insubordination from the people that worked under her, she was met with a lack of power to get them to do things and she didn’t have the funds to push the initiative she wanted to fund,” Vance said. “That’s somebody that I would like a building to be named after, because she was trying.”
Chau said she hoped to see the percentage of buildings named for people of color match the number dedicated to donors, currently at 24%.
“I think if we do want to move towards better diversity, equity and inclusion, then it would say something to show that the value we place on (DEI) is the same as monetary value,” Chau said. “I think it needs to be the same, if not a little bit more, than the (donor percentage).”
In a recent interview with The Michigan Daily’s news podcast The Daily Weekly, professor Terrence McDonald, chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on University History, commented on how donors have affected the process of naming buildings.
“We admit that there are going to be buildings that celebrate the generosity of a donor,” McDonald said. “That in and of itself is not a problem for us.”
Engineering freshman Sam Sugarman said though he didn’t like the disparities in building names, he could understand why they exist.
“That’s because there have been more white people in a position to have the money and privilege to come to a university like this, elevate themselves throughout society, achieve great things and get a building named after them or become really rich and donate money and get a building named after them,” Sugarman said.
LSA freshman Alexander Manthous echoed Sugarman and Vance in saying that he “wasn’t surprised” by the statistics. Mathous said the University needed to make a change in how the buildings are named going forward.
“We’ve had an issue with systemic racism within America,” Manthous said. “This is how most college campuses are unless you go to a historically Black college or university. Obviously, going forward, we need to do something to make this to make the building names more diverse.”
LSA freshman Macy Hannan told The Daily she was disappointed by the University’s choice to name so many buildings after major donors.
“I wish that donors were not recognized as much, and obviously donors are important, but the professors and alumni are really the backbone that makes this university so great,” Hannen said. “We need to make sure that the people who really helped to improve this university the most get recognized.”
In the future, Vance said he hopes to see the University put more care into looking into the backgrounds of the people they name buildings after.
“It’s on members of the University to tell (the President’s Advisory Committee on University History) that they need to look into these people, investigate them, see what they find and see if we should really have a building named after that,” Vance said. “When you think about it, if you have a building named after someone, it’s reflective of the values you hold up.”
Daily Staff Reporters Christian Juliano and Jared Dougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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