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Out of 85 academic buildings on the University of Michigan’s campus, only one is named after a woman: Mary Sue Coleman Hall, named in March 2021, the home of the Life Sciences Institute.
The process to name a University building begins with a Naming Committee that discusses options based on naming guidelines, which are outlined based on the building’s purpose. The name then must be approved by the Board of Regents, University President or Unit Head. The Office of Budget and Planning finally must be consulted to ensure the name does not overlap with any existing buildings.
Advisory Committee Chair Terry McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library, previously wrote a memo to former University President Mark Schlissel outlining the Advisory Committee on University History’s recommendations on naming buildings. The memo explained that the committee uses guiding principles, rather than checklists, to determine building names.
“We are also very aware of the many ways that buildings and spaces are named,” McDonald wrote. “For example, some names are proposed by University administrators … some have been submitted and approved by the Regents, some have not.”
According to the Facilities, Spaces, and Streets Naming Policy, building names may represent financial contributions, honor a donor, honor an exceptional individual or commemorate the University’s history and traditions.
Although many academic buildings such as Tisch Hall are named after both Preston and Joan Tisch, American Culture professor Kristin Hass said many people assume that it was only Preston Tisch who paid for the building.
“I think the only ways this will be changed is by more big-dollar donations from women, and more demand,” Hass said. “The demand should come from whoever thinks it’s a good idea, but I think students are most effective.”
Mary Sue Coleman Hall was formerly named the Life Sciences Building. It was renamed following approval from the Board of Regents in March 2021. According to McDonald, the principles for renaming are pedagogy, interpretation, due diligence, revision, commitment, historical and institutional context, consistency and contemporary effect.
LSA junior Briana Hay, who believes that female representation on campus is a problem for young aspiring women, said one way to help the lack of representation is to get U-M students involved in the process. She said increasing the number of people involved in renaming buildings will lead to more diversity and inclusion.
“I think a lot of students would be really passionate about getting involved in the naming process,” Hay said. “Students would definitely invest time into finding good people to name the building after to increase representation.”
The process for reviewing building names allows only members of the U-M community to make requests, and the renaming proposal must make a case on the basis of the proposed name, justifying their reasoning. From there, reviewed proposals from the U-M community are sent to the Office of President and President’s Advisory Committee, with the ultimate decision made by the Board of Regents.
“In everything we do we hope to rely upon and exemplify the knowledge, wisdom, and values of this University now and in the past,” McDonald wrote in the memo.
As a woman in STEM, Engineering junior Madison Daminato said she wants the University to represent students like her.
“I would like to be able to relate to the people that our buildings are named after,” Daminato said. “Currently, they are all older men or big donors — neither of these are inspiring to me.”
Following the creation of a U-M task force to look into diversification of building names, research by The Michigan Daily found only one of 103 on-campus buildings was named after a person of color and only 12 were named after women.
In her American Culture class, Hass said she asks her students to wonder about what kind of effects this could have on women at the University.
“They were very emphatic,” Hass said. “They said it has a huge impact and no impact at the same time. A huge impact because this is the message we have been getting about how women are valued since the way we were born. And no impact because it’s not just at the University, it’s everywhere — but I think the University’s job is to be better.”
Hay said this process could create a more positive image of the University, showing it does not value or pride its male graduates more than its female.
“This doesn’t reflect who we are,” Hass said. “We are not an institution that thinks that men are 200 times more important than women. There should be a real concerted effort in the future to name buildings after women who have made contributions to the University or the world.”
Daily Staff Reporter Ashna Mehra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.