If the University of Minnesota undergraduate student government has its way, “Coffman” will be dropped from Coffman Memorial Union.
The student body voiced unanimous support for a resolution Tuesday to rename the building, which has been the target of scrutiny since a U exhibit last fall shed light on the racist practices of its namesake, former U President Lotus D. Coffman.
More than 20 student groups and 16 faculty members signed the Minnesota Student Association resolution, which will now head to U President Eric Kaler for consideration.
Coffman’s name on the building “makes the University of Minnesota’s student union less welcoming,” the resolution reads. “The University has an opportunity to address its past and ensure that future honors bestowed by the U reflect inclusive values.”
The resolution also asks the school to establish a committee of students, staff and faculty to consider a new name but recommends Memorial Union as a “neutral name.”
“As students, we thought that was the most simple change that we could make,” said resolution co-author Sami Rahamim.
Last fall, the exhibit “A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anti-Communists, and Anti-Semitism at the University of Minnesota, 1930-1942” sparked discussion about racist and anti-Semitic aspects of the institution’s past.
The exhibit exposed former President Coffman as an ardent segregationist who blocked black students from taxpayer-funded campus housing during his tenure from 1920-1938. It also showcased former dean of student affairs Edward Nicholson’s targeting of Jewish students during the mid-20th century.
In response to concerns, Kaler assembled the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee on University History in September. The committee is charged with examining how buildings “are named and statues or other symbols of historical figures are commissioned and dedicated” as well as developing a “rationale” for the process.
“We hope this serves as an educational opportunity for people to learn about the past and to contextualize it with modern forms of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia that we still see today on campus,” Rahamim said Thursday.
John Coleman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the committee will hold forums soon and develop recommendations in April.
“The committee members and I take our charge very seriously, and we are doing our due diligence,” he said in a statement.
Rilyn Eischens is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.