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UW-Madison to remove 70-ton boulder some view as reminder of campus' racist past
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UW-Madison to remove 70-ton boulder some view as reminder of campus' racist past

From the Chamberlin Rock: Rediscovery and removal series
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Chamberlin Rock

In advance of moving a 70-ton boulder know as Chamberlin Rock off the campus of UW-Madison on Friday, workers prepare the site for the heavy lift Thursday. Extracted from Observatory Hill in 1925 and displayed there since, the rock has been regarded by some students as a racist symbol because of a commonly used slur which was used to describe the rock at the time.

UW-Madison will remove a 70-ton boulder from the heart of campus Friday morning following calls over the past year from students of color who view the rock as a symbol of the university’s racist past.

Chamberlin Rock, located on top of Observatory Hill, is named in honor of Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a geologist and former university president. But for some students of color on campus, the rock represents a painful history of discrimination.

The boulder was referred to as a “n——-head” — a commonly used expression in the 1920s to describe any large dark rock — at least once in a 1925 Wisconsin State Journal story. University historians have not found any other time that the term was used but said the Ku Klux Klan was active on campus at that time.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank approved the removal of Chamberlin Rock in January but the Wisconsin Historical Society needed to sign off on the rock’s removal because it was located within 15 feet of a Native American burial site.

The university announced Thursday that the rock will be removed at 6:30 a.m. Friday. The rock will be placed on university-owned land southeast of Madison near Lake Kegonsa.

The university plans to erect a plaque in Chamberlin Hall to honor the former university president, UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone said. There were no additional details on the timing of the installation.

Chamberlin Rock

The university estimated this winter that removal would cost between $30,000 and $75,000 — an amount that officials said at the time would be covered with private or gift funds. McGlone said a more recent cost estimate will be available Friday.

The Black Student Union led the call to remove the rock last summer. Nalah McWhorter, the group’s president and a UW-Madison senior, said in an interview this summer that the demands to remove the boulder had been around even before she arrived on campus three years ago.

“I’m grateful that we have had the opportunity to do this and that the rock will be removed,” she said. “It was our demand, and it was something that we put all the work in for.”

The Black Student Union worked with Wunk Sheek, an Indigenous student organization on campus, to lobby for the rock’s removal.

“We did all these presentations,” McWhorter said. “We went through all of these meetings during an academic year with a lot of other stuff going on, so the work really relied on us, as students, and as Black students.”

Chamberlin Rock news article

A Wisconsin State Journal story from Oct. 9, 1925, about the effort to dig up and relocate the large boulder found embedded in Observatory Hill.


Fave 5: Higher education reporter Kelly Meyerhofer shares her top picks of 2020

The first story I wrote this year was about a two-legged dog. 2020 only got more weird from there.

In early March, I sat in a room with about a hundred others listening to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank brief professors on how the coronavirus might affect campus operations. During the Faculty Senate meeting, she encouraged instructors to consider what classes or meetings could be delivered online.

"We have no idea quite what may be coming, if anything,” she said on March 2.

Oh, how quickly did the world change. 

Over the next nine months, I wrote stories that would have seemed surreal a year ago: dorm rooms considered for potential hospital overflow, online commencement ceremonies, campus mask mandates and students stuck in lockdown

It's been a privilege to bear witness to all of the seismic changes 2020 brought to college campuses, most of which I reported from my kitchen table (OK, and sometimes my couch). I'm grateful to the State Journal's subscribers who help support my job as one of the few higher education reporters in Wisconsin. The five stories listed below were some of my favorites, but you can find the 172 other stories I've written so far this year here

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The annual Match Day tradition, where students stand on stage to learn where they will do their residencies, was scuttled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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Thousands of students moved into UW-Madison's dorms with a mixed set of emotions about the semester ahead — excitement, hope, doubt, fear — and I tried to capture it all in this story. 

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UW-Madison's return to the physical classroom stokes fear among some who say the safest option is to continue online and relief from others whose experience teaching or learning remotely was underwhelming.

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The Trump administration proposed a number of actions that made life difficult for international students.

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