“History is written by the victors” was perhaps Winston Churchill’s most well-known quote. Like many great quotes, it’s one that expresses a grand idea succinctly and elegantly: Those who win write not only their own history but also everyone else’s. While some apply this only to war, it extends to any type of conflict. When any two groups engage in competition, there are, by default, always winners and losers. From sports, to grades, to social situations, someone always has an edge.

These competitions are often construed as being completely fair, as all participants engage in the same task, meaning one shouldn’t, hypothetically, confront any more difficulty than another during the task. However, this doesn’t take into account that people are shaped by their previous experiences, which are different for each person. These experiences are often dependent on social identity, with privilege and social capital playing a large part in life. The challenges I have faced as a white male of high socioeconomic status are profoundly different (and overall, lesser) than those faced by any person of color.

In certain aspects of society throughout history, privilege has resulted in overrepresentation of certain groups over others, one of the most privileged groups being males in leadership positions. We can see this effect across a number of professions: in education, business, the military and often government as well. This overrepresentation in the present leads to overrepresentation in history, and contributes to the prevalence of buildings and monuments dedicated to men.

While you can see this all over, on government buildings or sports stadiums, it is especially apparent in institutions of higher learning. Regarded as a bastion of liberalism, you might think the University of Michigan wouldn’t hold true to this common practice. And to a degree, it doesn’t, with four residence halls named after women (Martha Cook, Alice Lloyd, Mary Markley, Helen Newberry, Betsy Barbour) and one academic building named after a heterosexual couple (Betsy and Bob Beyster Building). However, there is currently no academic building named solely after a woman. And given that the University has more than 500 buildings spread over North, South, Medical and Central campuses, the buildings listed above constitute a paltry sum.

Many feminists know too well the ways in which women have been erased from history, and in response, they have created the aptly named “her-story,” in opposition to “his-story.” However, you can’t really construct buildings for the express purpose of naming them after women, which would be the physical equivalent of writing her-story. While you could rename current monuments and buildings, this is met with fierce resistance.

That being said, three members of LSA Student Government — budget allocations committee chair Nicholas Fadanelli, President Jason Colella and Vice President Reid Klootwyk — may have found an opportunity to remedy this problem. With construction underway for the new Biological Sciences Building, and no name currently assigned to it other than “Biological Sciences Building,” there is an opportunity to have an academic building at the University named after a woman. Colella, Klootwyk and Fadanelli sought to bring about this change by writing a resolution and trying to pass it through student government. What’s more, they have a perfect candidate to name the building after: our former University President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman, one of only two former University presidents who do not have a building named after them.

Mary Sue Coleman has been one of our most respected and distinguished former presidents. She earned many awards while in office, including being named one of the top 10 college presidents in the country by TIME. And even after leaving her job as president of the University, Coleman has continued to give the school a good name. Since her departure, she has served as the president of the Association of American Universities and was appointed by President Barack Obama to help launch one of his initiatives. And these are just a few of the accomplishments she has achieved so far.

As Fadanelli stated in an e-mail exchange with the Daily, “The fact that the University of Michigan does not have an academic building named solely after a woman is not only shocking, but it is also shameful. We, here, strive to push for diversity and inclusion in every field of study, and the lack of an academic building named after a woman does not send the image or the message that I believe the University of Michigan should.”

LSA Student Government will be voting at their Jan. 27 meeting on this resolution that would put pressure on the University to name the building after Coleman. Following LSA Student Government’s consideration of the resolution, they will urge Central Student Government to do the same.

I believe naming a building after a distinguished woman such as Mary Sue Coleman will start the University on the right track, and maybe even rewrite a little history itself.

Connor Kippe can be reached at conkip@umich.edu. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.