University of Wisconsin senior Adan Raed Abu-Hakmeh announced on Facebook yesterday that she intends to file a hate and bias incident report on behalf of herself and hundreds of other students and alumni over the university’s decision to perform more study before removing the names of two Ku Klux Klan members from rooms at Memorial Union.
Both the Porter Butts Gallery and Frederic March Play Circle are named for UW alumni who were members of student chapters of the KKK in the 1920s.
“I am arguing that the inadequacy of the University to condemn completely and remove the names on the walls of the union of the Ku Klux Klan members that went here is itself a racially based incident that conducts undue harm to students of color,” Abu-Hakmeh said.
“These spaces were named because of the accomplishments in later life of the two individuals, not to honor them for their membership in the organization,” said University spokesperson Meredith McGlone.
She said more than 300 other students and alumni have asked to have their names added to the complaint.
As Madison365 reported last week, an ad-hoc committee convened following the racially charged riots in Charlottesville, Virginia looked into the history of the KKK on campus and recommended “a project to recover the voices of campus community members, in the era of the Klan and since, who struggled and endured in a climate of hostility and who sought to change it,” as well as an investment in more faculty in ethnic studies departments. The committee further recommended “that any focus on the renaming of particular campus facilities follow rather than precede the work of substantial institutional change to acknowledge and address the legacies of that era.”
In other words, while the University undergoes an in-depth process to address the racism of the past, plaques honoring Klan members will stay in place today.
The University’s hate and bias reporting system is intended for students to report to the Dean of Students Office any incidents stemming from racism, sexism, homophobia or any other biases. Abu-Hakmeh said having to walk past rooms named to honor Klan members amounts to a bias incident.
Committee member Nate Royko Mauer said he can understand her perspective, and that it makes sense that a student of color might feel bias in seeing those names honored. He said the names still might be removed as part of the committee’s process.
“What I find really inadequate and really horrendous is that the university was asked a simple yes or no question. ‘Can we please remove the names of KKK members from spaces that students of color perform in?'” she said. “And the university took that question and instead of saying, ‘oh yeah, that seems like a great idea. Thank you for asking. We can get on that right away, that wouldn’t even cost us a million dollars,’ they said, ‘Well, actually, we don’t find that to be important despite the fact that you asked specifically for this and look at these things that we are doing that we should’ve been doing all along, to kind of excuse the fact that we are not willing to part with our institutionalized racism.'”
Abu-Hakmeh, who worked as vice president of internal relations at the Union during her sophomore year, said the Union itself could remove the names, but she isn’t optimistic that they will.
“The union is run by people who would rather uphold history then condemn racism,” she said. “I doubt that they would actually do anything about it without being forced to by the university.”
A Memorial Union spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
This story has been updated.