Macalester students praise college's decision to remove founder's name from building

Activism from Indigenous students, work of reporters force administrators to take notice

Sloane Martin
November 19, 2019 - 4:31 pm

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Macalester College's Board of Trustees is removing the name of the school's founder from one of its buildings because of racist and sexist writings, an effort students are applauding as an example of student journalism and activism.

Edward Duffield Neill founded the St. Paul college in 1874. The Humanities Building was named after Neill in 2013.

"Macalester had contracted consultants to complete a campus wayfinding plan as part of a broad effort to make it easier for visitors to access the campus," the The Mac Weekly paper reported. "The consultants, noting that many of the college’s humanities departments were actually located in Old Main, reported that the name 'Humanities Building' could be a source of confusion and recommended that Macalester consider naming the building for something or someone else."

It went through without much commotion at the time, but in a statement this month recommending the change, President Brian Rosenberg wrote to the board that, "attitudes expressed toward indigenous people in those writings are racist and dehumanizing in the extreme." Neill also opposed co-educating men and women.

The student-run The Mac Weekly this semester released an extensive series called "Colonial Macalester," laying out Neill's history. The labor by the crew of Liam McMahon, who did research through the archives at Macalester and the Minnesota History Society, Rebecca Edwards, Lindsay Weber, Abe Asher, Hannah Catlin, Margaret Moran, and more, helped spur a change they hope extends through the future.

"Indigenous people have been the subject of oppression and the victim of oppression for so long that this small act of renaming a building could be very impactful and could be one stop toward a more just future," Moran told WCCO Radio.

The reporters also credited the advocacy of Indigenous students like Zoe Allen and Jennings Mergenthal with the campus group Proud Indigenous People for Education (PIPE).

"Historical revisionism is what allowed us to commemorate a man like Edward Neill for his positive achievements in the U.S. government, and erase his incredible racism and view toward co-education," Mergenthal said. "Taking his name down isn't revisionism. I think if anything, it's restoration leading us to a more accurate perception of what is history and what is historical."

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