The excerpt below is a component of the weekly Higher Ed Issues Landscape Report, which analyzes the top conversation trends in higher education for the past week and highlights qualitative and quantitative insights on the topics and universities that drove coverage.
While some university leaders have made changes in response to direct backlash, others have found opportunities to proactively use building and monument transformations to educate people about the university’s history and tell its story.
Trending Building & Monument Changes in Recent Months:
Examples of Changes in Response to Backlash:
University of Wisconsin-Madison – Chamberlain Rock
The large boulder, named after a geologist and former university president, was recently found to have been referred to by a derogatory name for Black people in a Wisconsin State Journal in the 1920s. The term was commonly used during this time to describe any large dark rock.
- Reaction: Mixed – Online mentions around removing the boulder were mostly negative when the news was first reported, with many individuals calling it an unnecessary expense. When it was revealed that an anonymous gift would be funding the removal of Chamberlain Rock, much of the negative conversation on social media subsided.
University of Miami – Campus Buildings
Following student backlash that included a petition signed by more than 1.6K individuals, the University of Miami Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees announced the renaming of three buildings on campus.
- Reaction: Mixed – While negative mentions spurred by the creation of the petition persisted before, during, and after the decision to rename the aforementioned buildings was announced, university leaders going above and beyond to consider other student requests was seen as an act of good faith.
Examples of Proactive Changes to Building/Monument Dedication:
Emory University – Campus Buildings
In June, Emory University announced it will begin the process of renaming buildings on its campus in order to address “a legacy of racism, disenfranchisement, and dispossession.”
- Reaction: Positive – The announcement sparked a number of positive mentions, with coverage commending President Fenvez and his leadership.
University of Minnesota – Campus Buildings
At an annual retreat attended by the university’s president and Board of Regents, UM leaders came to agree that building namesakes should come up for renaming after several decades so new prominent campus figures can be honored.
- Reaction: Positive – While there was some speculation around how the idea will actually be put into practice, coverage was mostly positive and many considered it a well-intentioned move.
University of Tennessee – Statues
This week, UT Athletic Director Danny White announced that the school would be unveiling four bronze statues next month that will honor former players who were trailblazers for the school and for the Southeastern Conference.
- Reaction: Positive – During a unique time in UT’s athletic program, this move contributed to positive conversation around Danny White and other UT leaders’ commitment to setting up the program for future success.