Campus News

Campus spaces memorializing KKK fraternity members likely to see name change, following Union Council vote

Union Council members passed a resolution Monday that would remove former KKK fraternity members names from Memorial Union Spaces

Image By: Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons - Richard Hurd

Wisconsin Union spaces that memorialized former Ku Klux Klan fraternity members could receive new names this fall, if UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank approves the Union Council resolution passed in a 7-2 vote Monday night.

The council’s resolution comes after a summer’s worth of discussion and debate surrounding the Porter Butts Gallery and the Fredric March Play Circle, after a report published last spring linked those spaces’ namesakes to a 1920s campus fraternity called the Ku Klux Klan.

Chancellor Blank mandated the school investigate its association with the KKK last August in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, South Carolina. Members of the committee who voted Monday night said they expect she will ratify the resulting Union Council resolution, passed almost a year later.

“Council voted to move forward with renaming in consideration of the impact on students and other community members of affiliation with any organization called the KKK on students and other community members,” the Union Council said in a statement published Tuesday morning. “Union Council and the Wisconsin Union team are committed to inclusivity, the shared governance process that led to this decision, and to playing an active role in improving campus climate.”

The resolution was an effort to honor the voices of students and community members who felt that displaying March and Butts’s names created a hostile campus climate, while also acknowledging the complicated history of the KKK fraternity on campus, according to Yogev Ben-Yitschak, Associated Students of Madison vice chair and one of the 10 members of the panel who voted on the resolution Monday.

It suggests that Fredric March’s name be removed from the Play Circle and the Porter Butts Gallery be renamed the Main Gallery. It also recommended that a display recognizing Butts and his contributions as a founder of the Wisconsin Union be constructed at a different location, and that further research be done regarding Fredric March’s legacy.

The language the resolution uses to discuss the future of the Play Circle was left intentionally open-ended, should the Union Council decide to rename the space later on.

“The resolution was vague enough that if we do more research and decide to rename the play circle after a person of color, we can,” Ben-Yitschak said. “That’s something we’ll continue to talk about.”

The resolution also reaffirmed goals laid down by the council last April, including the development of Union programing meant to inspire conversations about current and past injustices on campus, as well as a public history project that would collect the stories of those who endured and struggled against a hostile campus climate.

Community input collected over the course of the summer was critical to the council’s decision, Ben-Yitschak said.

“Our decision was almost entirely based on what the community told us,” he said. “People took this issue very personally.”

Ben-Yitschak also said that the discussion process speaks to the power of a shared governance system, where student and university bodies work together to develop solutions to problems.

“First of all, this is a prime example of shared governance, what student government is supposed to do,” Ben-Yitschak said. “We all came together and agreed on a compromise. It’s an example of what should happen when students and the school disagree about anything.”

Over the next school year, the Union Council will work to meet the goals outlined in this resolution and the one passed in April, which includes further research into the historical connection between the KKK and the Ku Klux Klan fraternity, as well as new ways to make inclusion a reality on campus.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the next year plays out,” Ben-Yitschak wrote in a Facebook status. “I think we're on the right side of history on this one."

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