Following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, a University of Wisconsin professor and local activist will study the university’s history with the Ku Klux Klan and advise UW on how it can move forward and acknowledge their history.
The group, announced by UW officials Monday, will be chaired and led by UW history professor Stephen Kantrowitz and president of 100 Black Men of Madison Floyd Rose. The group will be comprised of students, alumni and faculty according to The Wisconsin State Journal.
In a statement released by Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s office, Blank said Charlottesville has shown that it was time to take a “fresh look” at UW’s history.
“In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, it is time to take a fresh look at our history to ensure that we fully understand and appropriately acknowledge the activities of members of the campus community during this time period,” Blank said in the statement.
Blank said UW needs to acknowledge their history in a way that would reflect the institution’s values in order to achieve respect and inclusion for everyone.
Blank said the study group will examine two student-led groups that were affiliated with or named after the KKK during the 1920’s, according to WSJ.
The group will then advise UW officials on how to acknowledge and respond to the campus’s history with the KKK, according to WSJ.
Blank will also request a space in the Memorial Union to be used as a place to document the history of the specific student organizations, according to the statement.
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UW senior Jeung Bok Holmquist said she is pleased the administration has taken actions to investigate its history but simultaneously disappointed it took the events in Charlottesville for them to do so.
On a number of occasions over the past few years, UW has had several racially charged incidents inflicted upon their students of color, including students mocking a Native American ceremony at Dejope and a black student being harassed and spit on in her dorm, Holmquist said. But, little has been done to accomplish a change.
“When white students come here, their heritage and existence is immediately validated by the buildings named after people who look like and have names like them,” Holmquist said. “It just does not surprise me at all that people like Fredric March and Thomas Brittingham Jr. have connections to white supremacist organizations and it is about time that the UW acknowledges that.”
As a two time performer in Yoni Ki Baat, a performance for women of color to share stories about their identity, including race, gender, identity and concerns of white supremacy, Holmquist was “appalled” that the performance space where YKB takes place is named after a Klan member.
The space, The Fredric March Play Circle should be renamed, Holmquist wrote in a Facebook post. She said the performance space has been tainted by the discovery that it was named after a KKK member.
“I cannot believe that my friends and I have been performing our personal monologues in a space named after someone who would have considered all of us to be lesser beings,” Holmquist said. “I find it so ironic that we are sharing our intersectional stories in a theater that honors a racist.”
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Holmquist hopes the group study will lead to the university admitting that it was built on white supremacist values, as well as the renaming of every building, gallery and room that was named after a white supremacist.
Instead, the spaces should be named after people who contributed to the University, including alumni and faculty of color rather than those who hold “discriminatory ideologies close to their hearts,” Holmquist said.
She also said the study gives the University a chance to make the campus more inclusive for students of color.