The Name Remains: Students, faculty respond to the CC Little Transit Station’s cultural namesake

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 8:54pm

CC Little is being sat on by its new identity

CC Little is being sat on by its new identity Buy this photo
Roseanne Chao

Last week, the University of Michigan Board of Regents unanimously voted to remove the name of the former Clarence Cook Little Science Building. Since the decision late last week, the University has taken steps in clearing the building’s name from usage. Less than one hour after the decision was made, the old building sign was removed and changed to “1100 North University Building.” Given the short notice, departments across campus are continuing to remove the name from flyers and other campus resources.

During the Regents meeting last week, Regent Andrea Newman, R, addressed the University’s important role in “changing the student vernacular,” claiming members of the U-M community will continue to identify the building, as well as the Central Campus Transit Center, as C.C. Little. Students and faculty alike are still reflecting on the University’s duty in mediating how C.C. Little’s name and history will be remembered in campus culture.

Little, the University president of during the first half of the 20th century, was a strong supporter of the eugenics movement and a proponent of the tobacco industry. Many students, faculty and administrators on campus believe Little’s legacy does not deserve commemoration and a named building.

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According to University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen, U-M Logistics, Transportation & Parking is working to change the bus announcements that currently refer to the Central Campus Transit Center as the C.C. Little Transit Station.

Earlier this week, the University Athletics Department sent an email flyer for the Final Four Championship Watch Party transportation service, incorrectly referring to the Central Campus Transit Center as “C.C. Little.” Broekhuizen said the announcement “was written and teed up before the vote on Thursday” and the department promptly made the correction on their website.

“Our assessment after consulting with Student Life is that there isn’t much ongoing concern on this topic,” Broekhuizen wrote in an email.

Prior to the President’s Advisory Committee on University History’s investigation into the historical significance of C.C. Little’s name, students and faculty submitted official requests and staged protests in support of removing the name. Broekhuizen said the University hosted town hall meetings for students to learn about renaming the building, provided public information and released University President Mark Schlissel’s committee reports.

While the University claims progress has been made to remove C.C Little’s name in public areas across campus, many students and faculty ask what the University’s role is in reflecting how C.C. Little's name is remembered.

LSA senior Madison Jones has dedicated time to advocating for the removal of C.C. Little’s name, participating in the protest during the LSA Student Government meeting last September. Though her initial goal has been accomplished, Jones said there is still much to learn. Jones believes the University has the power to influence U-M culture by continuing to educate students on the importance of the name removal.

“I think if they were more heavy-handed and a little bit stronger in their responses, that would help,” she said. “If they actually came out and had denounced the things C.C. Little did and framed it as, ‘We really understand why this building name is unacceptable, and that's why we are changing it,’ rather than framing it as some sort of intellectual debate, I think that would help with more people and more students understanding, ‘Oh this isn't an okay thing.’”

Jones also expressed her concern on the University’s delayed response.

“With any of these incidents and any of these problems, the University’s response is always not only too slow, but too kind of calm, too kind of attached, too kind of disregarding and invalidating the sense of urgency and the feelings these students have,” she said.

As a senior, Jones empathizes with student activists who are not able to witness the fruits of their labor.

“Everything people are doing on this campus is to better it for future generations,” Jones said. “But still, people want to see tangible results to their organizing and activism within their own student cycle.”

An LSA sophomore, who requested to remain anonymous due to his involvement in CSG, said he didn’t think changing the name of the building was going to make a measurable difference on campus because the University is not addressing the lingering cultural impact of C.C. Little’s name.

“I really don’t think there’s a purpose in changing it, in that it doesn’t erase the fact that the person who it was named after was racist,” the student said. “Just because you change a name of a building, that doesn’t change the culture of the University.”

In an email interview, Angela Dillard, the associate dean for Undergraduate Education, echoed the student’s sentiments and said simply removing the name does not change history books or the cultural impact C. C. Little had on campus.

“Removing CC Little's name from the building does not erase him from history,” Dillard wrote. “He was (still) president of the UM from 1925 to 1929; there has been no move to expunge him from the history books -- even if such a thing were even possible … Names change all the time for various reasons.”

Peter McIsaac, an associate professor of German and museum studies, said he believes the University has a great responsibility in influencing how members of the community will remember C.C. Little.

“I think it’s too simple to think, ‘We take the name down, this means we’re free and clear. We never had people like that on our faculty, we never had a President who was a eugenist,’” McIsaac said. “(Little’s) not the only one. So I think it’s a good thing to take the name off the building, but I think it’s too simple to say, ‘Oh, that solves the issue.’”

McIsaac suggested ways in which the University could provide a learning opportunity from the recent decision, from introducing the building’s history on campus to new students during orientation to an installation that could be placed near the building, explaining its history and why the name was changed.

McIsaac also said he recognized the name removal as an opportunity to reflect on the University’s past and how the University can move forward.

“Rather than simply saying, ‘Okay we want to manage consciousness by saying, “Don’t call it that anymore,”’ there’s sort of a moment to learn,” McIsaac said.

Terrence McDonald, a history professor and chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on University History, spoke at last week’s meeting prior to the vote to present the Committee’s findings about Little. The Committee debated the issue for months and officially submitted the request for Schlissel to recommend the building’s renaming in January. McDonald said he encourages community members to celebrate the University’s decision.

“I think it’s important to point out that the University has done something significant already,” he said. “By saying to the community and to the world that we are not going to commemorate people who were involved in this national movement. The decision can feel kind of routine, but it wasn’t. It actually was quite remarkable that the regents decided to vote and that Schlissel decided to accept the recommendation.”

In an interview with The Daily last week, Schlissel reiterated McDonald’s comments on the rarity of the decision, saying he didn’t “want the names of things to be changing as fashions change.”

According to McDonald, the Committee found Little was an immigration restrictionist during his time, and was in favor of restrictions that would be complementary to today’s rhetoric from President Donald Trump against illegal immigration from Latin America.

“I don’t know how many people realize that we are repeating some of the same themes and that those themes were repudiated,” he said. “People at the time in the ’20s were saying, ‘This is not the right way to think about immigrants.’ And yet we’re repeating some of the same things.”

McDonald said the original naming decision was made without much thought or consideration, following a basic argument that there should be a building named after every president. McDonald believes the recent change will create exciting and novel conversation about how the University wants to think about a building that has yet to be renamed.

“One of the opportunities for us, pedagogically, is to think about what we can learn about the conversation from the ’20s that Little lead,” McDonald said. “He was actually the leader of this organization, and what’s the role of that conversation today and why are we revisiting these themes in contemporary America.”

In the wake of the regents’ decision, McDonald said several University classes are already including this conversation in their material. Next year, McDonald believes science courses, as well as those on American history, have much to gain from paying attention to C.C. Little, his problematic history and how the University is moving forward.

As professors who study the past, both McDonald and McIsaac said they value the importance of learning from history to avoid repeating it again.

However, Jones commented on the current conversations around Little’s name and its usage on campus, saying those who continue to use Little’s name on campus to signify spaces such as the Transit Center is a constant reminder to students of color who were directly persecuted by Little’s ideals. She also said history cannot be ignored and the University should do more to denounce Little’s ideals and influence Little’s continued cultural identity on campus past a name change.

“C.C. Little, because he’s this historical figure, we can’t see him, we can’t talk to him right now. It’s easy to just be desensitized to that history and think it doesn't matter,” Jones said. “You can’t ignore that history and it’s no longer sanitized.”