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UW-Madison eyes removal of historic 70-ton boulder due to Black Student Union demand

In collaboration with the Black Student Union at the school, University of Wisconsin-Madison leaders are discussing plans to remove a 70-ton boulder from campus grounds due to it once being called a racist name nearly a century ago.

The boulder had traveled to the region over 10,000 years ago, deposited by ancient pre-Cambrian bedrock drift from Canada, according to its plaque.

In 1925, workers pulled the rock out of the side of a hill on campus and named it “Chamberlin Rock” after Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, a 19th century glaciologist and University of Wisconsin president. The rock was adorned with a plaque commemorating Chamberlin and placed at the university’s Washburn Observatory, where it remains today.

While Chamberlin Rock has been a campus fixture for 95 years, it recently came under fire due to once being described as a “n****rhead” in 1925 as was common geological practice at the time to describe large dark rocks, Madison.com reports.

The Black Student Union at UW is now calling on the university to find an alternate way to represent Chamberlin on campus without the legacy implied by the rock.

“You clearly see what the rock was called and you can’t deny the history. Additionally you can’t deny the way it makes some people feel,” Black Student Union president Nalah McWhorter told Madison.com. “If you’re not going to move the things that are disrespectful to us because other students love it, put something up that us Black and brown students can celebrate.”

Reached for comment, campus spokesperson Meredith McGlone told The College Fix via email that at “the request of the Wisconsin Black Student Union, Chancellor Blank is discussing plans for the removal of Chamberlin Rock, in coordination with the Campus Planning Committee, which oversees monuments.”

“As the monument itself is of concern – and not the personal history of President Chamberlin (leaders were presidents and not chancellors during that time period) – Chancellor Blank is exploring other ways that he can be remembered by the university.”

Daniel Einstein, the historic and cultural resources manager for UW Madison, has researched the university archives for instances of the use of the name in reference to Chamberlin Rock.

“I could only find one instance of the offensive term related to the rock–in the 1925 Wisconsin State Journal article,” reads Einstein’s statement to The Fix. “There is no reference in this article to Chamberlin. The reporter was using the term (in a manner not uncommon for the time) as a generic reference to a geographic or geological feature.”

“The Board of Regents approved the format for a commemorative plaque a year later. The plaque seems to have been installed sometime in late 1926–at which time the attribution ‘Chamberlin Rock’ would have first been used. Before this point, the rock had no officially designated name. None of the available sources describe a dedication ceremony–no photos, no program pamphlets, no speeches.”

“This offensive term appears to have been used once by a city newspaper to describe a rock a full year before it was named after Chamberlin.”

This is not the first time black students at the University of Wisconsin Madison have called for the removal of popular campus monuments.

Earlier this year, The College Fix reported on a student petition that sought for the removal of its famous Abraham Lincoln statue. The petition cited the statue’s racist past, as well as Lincoln’s “questionable” history of race relations.

Student activists seek to remove Lincoln statue at UW-Madison

Chancellor Rebecca Blank remained firm on keeping the statue, however, saying, “As the leader of UW–Madison, I believe that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy should not be erased but examined, that it should be both celebrated and critiqued.”

The UW Black Student Union did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment on the issue.

IMAGE: Vilingor / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Jackson Walker -- University of Wisconsin Madison