A 70-ton boulder seen by some students on UW-Madison’s campus as a racist symbol is another step closer to being removed from Observatory Hill.
Chamberlin Rock, named after geologist and former university president Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, was referred to at least once after it was dug out of the hill as a “n*****head,” a commonly used expression in the 1920s to describe any large dark rock.
The Wisconsin State Journal printed the slur in a 1925 headline. UW-Madison historians were unable to identify any other time the term was used but said the Ku Klux Klan had an active presence in Madison at that time.
The Wisconsin Black Student Union and Wunk Sheek, a Native American student organization, pushed for the rock’s removal over the summer, saying it is a daily reminder of the injustices students of color have faced on a predominantly white campus.
The university’s Campus Planning Committee in November unanimously approved recommending the boulder be relocated off university property to a location on or near the National Park Service’s Ice Age Scenic Trail.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank accepted the committee’s recommendation on Monday. She told a faculty committee that she has also asked the committee to start working on a way to honor Chamberlin in the form of a new plaque somewhere else on campus.
The rock’s removal is not yet a done deal. Because the boulder is located on or near a Native American burial site, the Wisconsin Historical Society needs to sign off and all Native Tribes of Wisconsin need to be notified and given time to provide input.
UW-Madison planned to submit the request to the Wisconsin Historical Society on Monday, university spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said. If all goes smoothly, the rock could be removed this summer.
Campus officials estimated in the fall that the cost of removal ranges from $30,000 to $75,000. McGlone said UW-Madison would tap private or gift funds, not taxpayer money, to cover the cost.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor commended the two student groups for leading the charge on the project.
“Their voices and experiences led to discussions and deep reflection that otherwise may not have happened,” she said in a statement. “There were multiple stakeholders in the discussion and the final outcome required compromise. I’m grateful to (the Black Student Union) and Wunk Sheek student leaders for their courage and influence to bring about this change.”
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