Students and community members gathered together in the Diag Tuesday afternoon to protest the C.C. Little building name as well as other injustices facing the minority community on campus. Protesters rallied against the University’s continued use of Little’s name on campus buildings because of his work with eugenics, which often targeted women of color. The protest included a march that ended at a panel discussion hosted by LSA Student Government on the removal of Little’s name from the building.
Before reaching their final destination, protesters marched from the Diag to the Fishbowl, where they expressed their frustration toward the University with other students. Afterwards, white allies blocked the street as minority students marched to the panel held in the League Ballroom.
For LSA sophomore Diamond Berry, the protest was especially personal because her friends were directly impacted by racist acts on campus.
“Black people are being targeted on campus, and as a Black person I feel that I need to be out here in support of my people,” she said. “A few my friends were targeted personally, so I’m here to support the movement for equality.”
Once the protesters reached the panel, they were given an opportunity to talk about their own experiences, and explain why they advocated for the removal of Little’s name from campus. Many expressed discontentment about the amount of time that the University has taken to address this issue as well as the lack of answers that the administration has provided students.
LSA freshman Tyler Washington said she had hoped University officials would have had tangible solutions, especially because they have spent many years on campus dealing with these issues.
“Hearing another person higher up than me who has been here endless years — I’m a freshman, I’ve only been on this campus for three weeks and if someone else asks me, ‘Well what should we do’ — how are you going to ask me?” Washington said. “I’ve only been in college for three weeks. You work here, you’ve been through college, you have a degree, you’re doing your job, you should know the facts, you should know what you should be telling us.”
After most of the protesters had filed out, the panel and forum began again as originally planned. History professor Martin Pernick opened the panel by discussing the topic of eugenics in a broad sense and what role Little played in it. Pernick made the argument that being in support of the idealistic form of eugenics was not cause enough to remove a person’s name from the building they were named after.
“Eugenics meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Pernick said. “Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, defined it as the use of science to improve human heredity. Who can argue with that? Using science to improve things.”
Pernick explained Little’s interpretation of eugenics was what merited a renaming of the building named after him. According to Pernick, the type of genetics Little supported was one that promoted the advancement of those who held power in society in the early 20th century, through any means necessary.
“The kind of eugenics that Little promoted included all of the American Eugenics Society’s most controversial methods: compulsory sterilization, ban on interracial sex, selective immigration and restrictions by ethnicity,” Pernick said.
After Pernick concluded his speech, panelist and LSA senior Joshua Hasler explained Little’s life story. Hasler discussed Little’s work promoting eugenics before, during and after serving as the University’s president from 1925 to 1929. He noted Little’s close personal relationship with Charles Davenport, a man that Hasler described as the “godfather of American eugenics.” During his time at the University of Michigan, Little helped organize and was the president of the Third Race Betterment Conference held in Battle Creek, Michigan.
“And as president of both the conference, a member of the American Eugenics Society, and president of this University, he played a crucial role in bridging the gap between East Coast eugenicists and Midwestern eugenicists,” Hasler explained.
American Culture professor Alexandra Stern spoke after Hasler and focused the majority of her time discussing parallels between the current debate over renaming the C.C. Little Building to those debates which have been held on other college campuses concerning their own buildings’ past history. Stern specifically cited the University of Virginia’s decision to change the name of their medical research facility from that of a eugenicist, as something she believes the University of Michigan should emulate.
All of the panelists, along with several other professors, have submitted an official request to have the C.C. Little Building be renamed and have created an online petition to garner support for their proposal. As of Tuesday night, the petition has received 485 signatures since it was created on Sept. 1. That total includes over fifty signatures by University professors and deans, many of whom expressed their views on the issue of renaming in the comments section of the petition.
Mika LaVaque-Manty, director of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program, offered one of the most strongly worded comments in support of renaming the C.C. Little Building.
“It is to honor, not degrade, the past and the present of the University of Michigan to revisit its values and commitments. When a thoughtful examination, such as the one that informs this petition, concludes the past commitments are inconsistent with our real values, it's necessary to make changes. We should teach and learn from the legacy of Little; our buildings should not bear his name,” LaVaque-Manty wrote.
The petition has also gained support from the student body leadership with signatures from Central Student Government Reps. Jacob Cutler and Hafsa Tout as well as CSG President Anushka Sarkar, all of whom are LSA seniors.
Sarkar said Little was a problematic figure in the University’s past and that he should not be honored with his name on a University building.
“C.C. Little is emblematic of what is incredibly wrong about this University’s history, including putting big tobacco and eugenicism on a pedestal, quite literally on one of the largest buildings on campus,” she said.
Sarkar voiced her support for the decision last week by LSA SG to pass a resolution supporting the renaming of the C.C. Little Building. She also outlined a plan for how CSG should approach the resolution.
“I think that the resolution should be passed in every school and college-specific student government and that it should then be passed in Central Student Government to show that all nineteen schools and colleges individually support it, and therefore the entire University supports it, which is why our assembly passed it,” she said.
Those who have proposed the renaming acknowledge that there are still large swaths of students who have not heard about Little’s past and his beliefs on race. According to Hasler, part of the blame for this lies in the hands of the University itself. Hasler noted last semester’s Stumbling Blocks exhibit, though it outlined failures in the University’s past, failed to mention anything about Little and his advocacy for eugenics.
“They didn’t engage with C.C. Little and I think that’s an intentional choice, perhaps because it adds to the political climate and makes things potentially divisive when you talk about renaming a building,” he said.
Hasler would like to see the University rename the C.C. Little Building by the end of this school year.
“I think it’s something that we as a student body deserve … especially since we are living in such divisive and decisive times, this really requires immediate action.”
After the panel concluded, some student activists felt their concerns had not been adequately addressed by the forum and that there was continued work to be done on the issue of renaming the C.C. Little Building.
“After going into the meeting, there was this façade that everyone is on the same page as us and moving forward we shouldn’t have any issues, but the fact that we have to go through to the president, to get to the regents, to get C.C. Little changed is going to be ridiculously hard for us because we can’t even get the president to listen to open racists on campus, so how are we going to get him to listen to white supremacy on campus?” Washington said.
LSA SG President Nicholas Fadanelli, an LSA senior, concluded the forum by expressing his support for future dialogue about renaming the C.C. Little Building.
“And I just hope that all these people that came out here tonight sign the petition and we keep having this conversation … because this is an important conversation to have, as much as possible,” Fadanelli said.
LSA Student Government released a statement after the protest that acknowledged the protesters’ efforts and implored the University to rename the building.
“We would not only like to thank the activists who, for years, have fought for the name to be changed, but also faculty members who have dedicated years of their careers to investing who C.C Little was,” it read. “We continue to urge the University to change the name of the C.C Little Building to further the University’s mission of making an inclusive campus for everyone.”
The renaming request is currently being weighed by Schlissel's advisory committee on University history.
Maya Goldman, Colin Beresford and Carly Ryan contributed to the reporting of this article.