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Monday, February 06, 2023

The rock was commonly referred to by a racial slur from the 1920s through the 1950s and long served as a symbol of racial oppression in the UW community. 

UW set to remove Chamberlin Rock due to its racist past

After 95 years, UW-Madison will move forward in removing Chamberlin Rock from Observatory Hill, of which students of colors viewed the boulder as a representation of decades of racism and oppression seen on campus.

Named after Thomas Chamberlin, a geologist and former university president, the UW Department of Geoscience believed the boulder was carried south by glaciers from as far north as Canada before being excavated from the side of Observatory Hill in 1925. 

However, while the rock carries a rich geographical history, it also maintains a troubling past, evoking racist sentiments toward students of color on campus. Beginning in the 1920s, the Chamberlin rock was referred to by a racial slur. The Wisconsin State Journal used the slur in a 1925 headline, and the term eventually fell out of common usage by the 1950s, according to the State Journal. 

Nalah McWorter, President of the Wisconsin Black Student Union, said the rock’s removal serves as a pivotal measure in helping BIPOC students feel included within the UW community.

“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” McWhorter told the State Journal on Wednesday. “We won’t have that constant reminder, that symbol that we don’t belong here.”

The WBSU also hopes the rock’s removal will increase collaboration and inclusion efforts on campus. The rock’s removal was one of four listed demands provided by the Wisconsin Black Student Union in June. Other items included meeting with the Student Inclusion Coalition to discuss 1969/2020 demands, removing Bascom Hill’s Abraham Lincoln statue and meeting with Chancellor Blank to hear their experiences and recommendations for making campus more inclusive, according to an Instagram post.

Despite the multidimensional moving process, many activist groups saw the removal as a step in the right direction after petitioning for its removal throughout the summer. 

Because the rock sits near an effigy mound, the removal of the boulder will require the approval of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the State Journal reported. 

Getting approval from the WHS can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days, including a 30-day comment period. A qualified archaeologist must also be on-site during the boulder’s removal.   

The boulder weighs 70 tons and will cost anywhere from $30,000 to $75,000 to remove, according to a report from the UW Campus Planning Committee. 

While the rock’s future remains undecided, McWhorter said the Wisconsin Black Student Union will consider ideas on how students of color can utilize the space on Observatory Hill to reflect a more positive environment. 

“So it becomes a way to celebrate instead of having it as an empty space reminding us of what it once was,” McWhorter said.

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