The Memorial Union Council voted Tuesday to remove the names of two men who belonged to a campus group which used the name Ku Klux Klan in the early 1900s from union facilities. The decision comes after a year of discussion by the council and a report from a subcommittee which was convened to research the matter.
Memorial Union president Mark Guthier released a statement Tuesday outlining the decision and changes the council decided on.
The Porter Butts Gallery will be changed to Main Gallery, and an interactive kiosk will be set up in a permanent non-programming location to acknowledge his professional accomplishments.
The Fredric March Play Circle theater will be renamed the Play Circle. There are no plans to move his name elsewhere until more research is done, the statement says.
The statement says the changes are in response to concerns expressed by the campus community regarding Porter Butts’ and Fredric March’s names being on programming spaces in light of their participation in an honorary interfraternity society called the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s while they were University of Wisconsin students.
The statement notes Union Council members reviewed historical information regarding the honorary society to which Butts and March belonged and found no evidence that the organization was affiliated with the national Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Union Council faculty representative Dan Grabois says he was not surprised by the decision by the board.
“The students on the Union Council were not comfortable with maintaining names that made current students uncomfortable using the spaces,” Grabois said.
Recent UW graduate Adan Abu-Hakmeh filed a hate and bias report against the university after the findings about March and Butts were released in April. Abu-Hakmeh says she is pleased with the change but it’s nothing to congratulate.
“I’m glad that they are finally able to come to that decision that has been, what, eight months in the making,” Abu-Hakmeh said. “But I don’t think that is something they wanted to do willingly. I think that shows the way that they run their institution.”
Abu-Hakmeh says it is not appropriate for the directors and union administration to be questioning whether the men behind the names were racist at this point.
“Even today [directors and heads of the Union] are still questioning, ‘How do we actually know these people were racist?’ I think that is the most harmful thing you could be saying when you heard from so many students,” Abu-Hakmeh said. “They are doing less than the bare minimum, not even being able to change the atmosphere of the Union to being comforting to marginalized students.”
The names of the spaces will be changed before the the start of the 2018-2019 academic school year.