I now wish to address an important issue that has been brought forward by members of our community. We have been engaged in candid discussions with students, faculty, staff and alumni over the past few weeks.
In April, we announced a generous gift from Regent Mark Bernstein and his wife Rachel Bendit. They are passionate about multiculturalism and social justice, and wanted to support our efforts with a gift to help build the new facility on State Street that will house our Trotter Multicultural Center.
We were happy to accept the gift and recognize it by promising to name the building Bernstein-Bendit Hall. This is a standard convention with philanthropic gifts of this generosity.
Subsequently, though, we began to hear concerns from some members of our community who felt a sense of loss and diminishment with this action. The original Trotter House, named after William Monroe Trotter, is the only building on Michigan’s campus named for an African American, and for many the building name symbolizes the dedication of generations of Michigan students, faculty and staff who worked to make our campus more diverse and inclusive.
I have deep respect for Mark and Rachel’s efforts to listen carefully to these concerns, and to engage in thoughtful discussions about the issue with community members across campus. Given their desire to honor the U-M Trotter House’s legacy, they told me yesterday they are withdrawing their naming gift in order to preserve the William Monroe Trotter name on the new building that will be home of the Trotter Multicultural Center.
They’ve told me that in the months ahead they’ll continue to explore opportunities to support multiculturalism and of course Regent Bernstein remains fully engaged in the important strategic planning now underway for the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
This experience reinforces how we must, as a university, do a better job of open and widely inclusive dialogue. As they always have, Mark and Rachel will continue to be strong supporters of Michigan, and have modeled for us the kind of outreach and dialogue we need to foster greater levels of cross-cultural understanding and to achieve our goals as a diverse and inclusive community.
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