As undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Michigan, the names of places become embedded in our language. For many, C.C. Little is the name of a bus station, a location for class or simply a landmark to give directions. Underneath our colloquial use of the name, however, is the inherent glorification of a man who stood for everything University students and administrators oppose. This week, after years of protest, discussion and deliberation, University President Mark Schlissel has proposed to the University’s Board of Regents to rename the C.C. Little Science Building along with Winchell House in West Quad Residence Hall.
The Michigan Daily Editorial Board commends Schlissel for his proposal, and calls on the board to listen to the opinions of both students and faculty to approve this change. At the same time, we commend the student activists who made their voices heard to get us to this day. It is time we acknowledge our own history and take the proper steps to ensure we honor those who reflect the values of our community.
Across the nation, at universities like Yale University and Georgetown, students have come together to address the growing issue of controversial building names. A name, especially one of a prominent university building, has a special kind of presence that is felt throughout a campus. Recently, University students have focused their efforts on the C.C. Little Science Building and Winchell House in West Quad. Little was unremarkable as University president with a tenure of only four years from 1925 to 1929. While he tried to implement various university policies, he remains infamous for his support of eugenics as well as his role in the spread of tobacco propaganda in the country. Winchell, similarly racist, published “Proof of Negro Inferiority” in which he tried to explain the “biological proof” that African Americans were inferior. On a diverse campus, the glorification of Little and Winchell, inherent in the naming of a building, does not support the image of inclusivity that the University works to purport.
The proposal to rename the building would not have been possible without the determination of students on campus. The Editorial Board would like to commend all of the student activists and leaders on campus who organized and fought to change the name of C.C. Little. There have been years of fighting from students, determined to correct what they saw as a visible display of values severely incompatible with what our campus hopes to embrace. As a University that is trying to fight for diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, changing the name of the C.C. Little building and Winchell House is a formidable step in promoting inclusivity for students on campus. With campus issues like these, student voices should be heard and heeded as we are the ones who interact, both directly and indirectly, with buildings on campus. We call on the Board of Regents to listen to student concerns and understand that they have taken the time to go through the process to implement this change on our campus.
Additionally, we hope the University considers the changing of the C.C. Little building’s name a first step, not a final resolution. Oftentimes, building renames and other policy changes happen as a result of student protests and, while the action on this project by the University is commendable, we hope the administration pays due respect to the work of the student activists by being proactive and work to audit all names of existing University buildings. Students have already expressed concerns over the names of other buildings such as Angell Hall. Instead of waiting for campus activism, the President’s Advisory Committee on University History, which assesses building rename requests, should apply guidelines, such as those used at Yale, to show students on campus that their concerns are prioritized and have a lasting effect on University policy. What is most important is the inclusion of student perspectives in administrative and board discussions on how the campus can better reflect the values we find most important.
Let us be clear: Removing the names of despicable individuals in our University’s past from buildings must not be construed as an erasure of their legacies at the University. Should the board approve this measure, the University must take steps to ensure that the legacies of C.C. Little and Alexander Winchell live on, not atop the honored pedestals of named facilities, but in the historical record. The University should publicly display, whether in a plaque or exhibit or another medium, that these individuals had previously been honored, and that it took significant student activism for the names to come down. The University must never hide its history of honoring these individuals and the student activism it took to get to this change.