Student group wants Coffman Union renamed


The Minnesota Daily reports a student government committee is drafting a resolution to rename the building, named after former university president Lotus Coffman.

The move comes after the exhibition, “A Campus Divided” which focused in part on the university’s history of anti-Semitism, racism and housing segregation of African-American and Jewish students.

Coffman, who served from 1920 to 1938, enforced segregationist policies.

Just before the exhibit opened, U president Eric Kaler called on an advisory committee to look at the U’s history.

“The committee members and I take our charge very seriously, and we are doing our due diligence to complete this work thoughtfully and with involvement from University stakeholders,” said College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman, who heads the committee.

Kate Dietrick, the archivist for the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives housed in Andersen Library, said she’s interested to see where discussions from the exhibit lead.

“The intention going into this was not to rename buildings, but just to uncover the stories,” Dietrick said.

However, whatever the outcome of the exhibit, Dietrick said she’s happy to see an interest in history, research and archives.

“The materials that we have here in the archives tell really compelling stories that impact today,” she said.

Apoorva Malarvannan, a global studies and political science junior, and a member of the Rename Reclaim Subcommittee in MSA, said she heard of similar incidences at other schools, and was surprised to discover the history behind University building names.

“When we put someone’s name on a building, that means that we are, sort of, passively honoring them,” Malarvannan said. “The question becomes: do we want to honor someone who practiced … policies that explicitly [were] there to exclude black and Jewish students?”

The first report from Kaler’s advisory committee is due this month.

  • Robert Moffitt

    You can name your buildings whatever you want to, kids, but if you don’t mind a suggestion from an old man, why not focus on this problem instead? https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/02/18/graduation-rates

    Just imagine how upset the ghost of Lotus Coffman would be if you helped fill the building that bears his name with students of color? I hope he arrived at the gates of Heaven to see a sign that read “Sorry, Jews Only.”

    • Jared

      I can’t imagine there’s a significant correlation between students who graduate late and students that are members of student government committees actively drafting resolutions.

    • Guest

      I recall a high school that had a principal who wanted to keep blacks out years ago. Recently they put his bust on the steps to the front entrance and blacks would pat him on the head as they went in…….THAT seemed like poetic justice to me.

  • Gary F

    There is a movement at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis to rename it also.

    • Guest

      I never heard a slam against Patrick Henry? WHY the change?

      • He was an unrepentant slave owner.

        • RBHolb

          Henry opposed slavery on moral grounds, but left his 60+ slaves to his family when he died (no manumission for them!).

          Although Henry treated his slaves well by the standards of the day, he still owned them as property. The slaveholder who knew it was wrong, and who made impassioned speeches against slavery while still owning them himself, strikes me as one of the worst kinds of hypocrites.

          • Guest

            Worse than being just a slave owner?

            I mean which founding fathers did NOT think slavery was the law of the land? Gonna be a lot of new schools if owning a slave = dustbin of history.

          • RBHolb

            Yes. It’s bad enough to have been a slave owner, but I understand it was the economy of the time. To have the moral sense to know that slavery was wrong but to own slaves anyway seems even worse.

            Fun (or not so fun) fact: Clement Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was not only a slave-owner, but was also the author of pro-slavery and anti-abolitionist tracts.

          • Guest

            WOW, I never heard of that. On the other hand, Oskar Shindler and the guy who wrote Amazing Grace had flaws also.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    For those wondering why Jews and Blacks might have been grouped in this type of discrimination there is a linguistic answer. The common Jewish surname Schwartz comes from the German word Schwarz which translate to black.

  • Guest

    MPR did some stories showing how MPLS (not sure about St. Paul) was one of the more Anti-Semitic cities in the US…..from about 1920-WWII

    • Good memory. That was John Biewen (Mankato native who’s now gone on to distinguish himself at Duke, I think) …boy that must have been 25 years ago he did that series.

      https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/10/18/anti_semitism_mpls_history

    • Jerry

      Wasn’t Father Coughlin extremely popular here, to say nothing of Lindbergh?

      • RBHolb

        Luke Rader, pioneer radio evangelist, broadcast rank antisemitism from Minneapolis. There was a controversy a few years back when a new development would have torn down the building he used as his church. It was a historic site, but did we really want to memorialize that history?

  • firebearer

    If anti-racists rename on basis of segregation critique, all student groups and “community” housing shall be open to all member applicants.