A Campus Divided: UMN, please lead by example

Tiana Meador

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In Mar. 2018 University of Minnesota’s student government voted unanimously to rename Coffman Memorial Union simply to Memorial Union, to condemn the racially discriminatory practices of previous president, Lotus D. Coffman. However, currently, Coffman still stands with its same name, along with a few other main buildings with problematic pasts.

A Campus Divided is an exhibit being held on the fourth floor of Wilson Library from Sept. 10 to Oct. 31. This exhibit highlights the disparities between how the university treated race in history as compared to present day. However, there are two issues here: they are wild about pressing an exhibit on students in regards to how horrible the past was, but there is no immediate action to resolve those issues? Secondly, Papa John’s mysteriously disappeared off campus following this past May’s racist comments, but renaming a building cannot happen as quick. Interesting.

As cited by Tala Alfoqaha, writer for The Wake, “What do Coffman, Middlebrook, Nicholson, and Coffey Hall all have in common? A quick visit to the “Campus Divided” exhibit at Anderson Hall [last years exhibit] would reveal that other than the matching red-and-brown brick exteriors, these buildings also all happen to carry the name of a racist white guy (surprise, surprise). And, understandably, people are mad.”

Alfogaha wrote that article a year ago. The university keeps the exhibits theme consistent, but why are the buildings names left unchanged? Understandably, it is still an issue. Understandably, the university has a conflict of interest.

Here is the breakdown of history:

Coffman was affiliated with forced segregation, in other words, if he found an African American student in a dormitory (or any person of color, for that matter) he would have them relocated. Middlebrook was most noted for his case in paying for alternate lodging for Ahwna Fiti, the first woman of color admitted to the universities nursing program, because they did not want her “Setting a precedent” in her assigned, dominantly-white, dorm.

Nicholson, on the other hand, “Spied on student and faculty for Republican operative Ray P. Chase. Both men wanted to end the influence of the Farmer-Labor Party on and off the campus of the University of Minnesota. Chase’s papers at the Minnesota Historical Society contain dozens of letters and documents sent to him by Nicholson, which included the names of students and faculty whose political positions he did not accept.  Nicholson provided the FBI with the names of student activists.”

So, two racists, and one who will not accept a progressive voice. Healthy.

However, this summer, Papa John’s was involved in a racially-charged scandal, where their founder, John Schnatter, used the N-word in a conference call, which he later confirmed via email.

Noah Kirsch, reporter for Forbes, wrote, “On the May call, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups online. He responded by downplaying the significance of his NFL statement. ‘Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,’ Schnatter said, before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.”

Chris Elrod, the district marketing manager for M-Dining, claims that the slurs did not have an immediate impact on the franchises departure off campus, however, “The University and M-Dining are committed to fostering an environment of inclusivity on campus and [do] not condone racism and insensitive language, no matter the context,” said Elrod.

Seems a little fishy. Maybe it did close for financial reasons, however the context of all of it says otherwise.

University of Minnesota should not be putting up these exhibits unless they are going to stand by their word. Does knowledge in regards to history foster a less ignorant environment? Yes. But the commentary involved with M-Dining’s closure of Papa Johns, and the universities apparent hesitation to change building names, is fostering a theme of hypocrisy, and it looks like a conflict of interest.

Educate us, but listen to us as well.

U of MN, if you care for your students, lead by example.