The University of Wisconsin announced Thursday it will be covering the names of those associated with the Ku Klux Klan from two rooms in Memorial Union.
The announcement came after a study group commissioned by UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank examined the university’s history with the KKK on campus. The group’s final report found two student organizations at UW took the name “Ku Klux Klan” — one in 1919 and one in 1926. The report also said Klan members were open about their affiliation, occupied leadership roles in key organizations on campus and formed their own fraternity — Kappa Beta Lambda — in 1924.
In one of the report’s more significant findings, it said that two rooms in Memorial Union were named after Klan-affiliated group members — the Porter Butts Gallery and the Frederic March Play Circle.
But while the report posited a series of recommendations to confront this history in light of its findings, the study group did not recommend changing or removing the names of the Klan-affiliated group members from the rooms.
In a conference call detailing the report’s findings earlier this year, UW history professor Stephen Kantrowitz — who, along with 100 Black Men of Madison president Floyd Rose, served as co-chair of the study group — said the report focused instead on larger, structural problems of racism and intolerance on campus.
According to Kantrowitz, this didn’t include removing the names of those Klan-affiliated group members from their prominent display in Memorial Union.
“Our conclusion from reviewing the history is that the presence of Klan-named groups on campus was not the cause of the culture of intolerance in that era, but was rather a symptom of the culture of intolerance in that era — not unique to UW, but nonetheless present on this campus,” Kantrowitz said. “What needs addressing is not the actions of a few individuals, but rather the culture of that era and it’s legacies down to the present-day.”
In the wake of the report’s findings, however, many UW students objected to the presence of Butts’s and March’s names on campus buildings. In recent weeks, UW senior Adan Abu-Hakmeh led an effort to file a hate and bias report against the university for not removing the names of the Klan-affiliated group members.
In a statement Thursday, the Wisconsin Union said it met with Blank Wednesday to discuss the future of the Porter Butts Gallery and the Fredric March Play Circle in light of the recent pushback on campus. In that meeting, university leaders decided to cover up March’s and Butts’s names from those rooms.
“Addressing these spaces is a top priority for us at the Wisconsin Union,” the statement read. “We are committed to providing an inclusive environment and stand against all forms of racism and discrimination. We will continue to strive to live the Union’s values, including respect and inclusivity.”
The Union Council arrived at the decision on April 25 — the same time Abu-Hakmeh was working with other students to file the hate and bias report. After meeting with Blank, the Union Council announced its decision in Thursday’s statement.
According to the statement, the Union Council — while in agreement with and appreciative of the report’s focus on systemic and structural issues of racism and intolerance — said it thought aspects were missing in its list of recommendations.
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“While we agree that the priority for the UW-Madison campus should be systemic rather than symbolic change, an important element is missing from the report — the role of student programming in the named spaces,” the statement read. “Members of the Wisconsin Union Directorate are asked to provide an array of diverse, thought-providing and relevant programs for the campus community in the two named spaces. The relatively unaddressed nature of this fact influenced Council’s response.”
The names of the two rooms will be covered up at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. In the meantime, the statement said the two rooms will be referred to as “The Gallery” and “The Play Circle.” The Union Council will come to a final decision on the future of the two spaces by the end of 2018.
The statement also said it has requested to hear proposals for a “Social Justice Incubator” — a room in the Wisconsin Union with its own operating budget and funding sources — to help address social justice issues on campus.
The Union Council and other university officials will continue to meet with Blank as the future of the two spaces and of other issues related to social justice on campus are discussed in the coming years.