The University of Miami has not, historically, been especially “woke”, so I found this announcement to be a (pleasant) surprise:
May 3, 2021
Dear Members of the University of Miami Community,
This evening, during a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, we considered a number of issues related to our campuses, including two pending petitions to rename facilities at the University of Miami. We have determined that this is a moment to honor the accomplishments, contributions, and legacies of Black role models in the naming of buildings for the first time in University history, reaffirming our commitment to belonging and justice by recognizing those who overcame racism to enrich our campus, our city, and our world.
Our actions today acknowledge the pain and the promise of our Black students, alumni, colleagues, and neighbors while intentionally choosing to learn from and build on our history. We engaged in serious deliberations about our past, our future, and our ongoing pursuit of racial justice.
During this time of racial reckoning in the United States, the decisions we make must be shaped by our aspiration to be an exemplary institution in the community and nation. That desire compelled us to reevaluate how we can do better to address head-on the hurtful aspects of our past and apply their lessons to our future.
It takes intentional and sustained effort and focus to reckon with and understand the effects of a national history that includes 12 generations of enslavement. We agree with the Historic Review Committee on Naming’s (HRCN) recommendation that we reaffirm and strengthen the University’s commitment to inclusion and recognize the dignity of all persons. Therefore, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has made four important decisions:
First, we will name our brand-new Student Services Center building—which is central to our mission and our campus—for a distinguished Black alumnus/a of the University of Miami. In helping to transform the way we provide services to our students, this state-of-the-art building reflects our ambition to lead the educational revolution by providing an education for life that has belonging, equity, and justice at its core. This decision stems from our commitment to honoring ’Canes from all walks of life as the University continues to grow, evolve, and thrive. A small committee of trustees, faculty, and students will be selected to identify an appropriate namesake, which will be announced in the fall with a grand opening and dedication ceremony.
Second, the rehearsal hall at the Frost School of Music will be renamed to honor someone whose accomplishments reflect the values of our University and whose life epitomizes their personal commitment to the University. Henry Fillmore, after whom the hall is currently named, used patently offensive language and images to promote his music. His most prominent work—the success of which led to his renown and likely the naming—was full of racist caricatures that amounted to dehumanizing Black people. He died in 1956, nearly a decade after the federal government took action to end segregation in the United States armed forces. However, in considering whether Fillmore acknowledged the negative aspects of his work, the HRCN concluded he did not. The selection of a new namesake for the rehearsal hall will be undertaken by a committee to be appointed by the Board of Trustees, which will make its recommendation in the coming months. Input for a new name will be solicited from students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the University community.
Third, we will no longer refer to the structure on Merrick Drive by our founder’s name. As the founder of the University, we have much to be thankful for to George E. Merrick, yet we understand that for some members of our community, the name on this garage is a reminder of the harm caused by segregation. Therefore, we will adopt a neutral directional name for that structure on the Coral Gables Campus.
Finally, on each structure involved in these petitions, we will educate the campus community about our imperfect past and our vision for the future. We will establish prominent and widely accessible educational features to be displayed on campus to introduce the history of the current and prior honorees, provide context, and explain the decision to retain or remove a structure’s historic name. These markers will remind us that we can recognize the important contributions individuals have made to our University, while acknowledging that the actions in which they engaged during their lifetimes are not consistent with our views today.
This approach, which embraces our role as a teaching institution, will include the other building and street that were the subject of the second petition, bearing the family name of our founder and one of the most ardent advocates of the University, George Merrick. The Solomon G. Merrick Building is one of the oldest on the Coral Gables Campus. Its naming in honor of George Merrick’s father was consideration for the gift of 160 acres of land and $5 million in financial support that led to the very establishment of the University of Miami. Moreover, we do not believe that individuals should be judged by the shortcomings of their family members. The decision regarding the street named for George Merrick himself goes beyond the purview of the Board of Trustees.
While we recognize that George Merrick’s proposals as chair of the Dade County Planning Board perpetuated a wealth gap for Black residents and broad inequities in our community that persist to this day, his vision and donation made possible the institution that would later become the first university in Florida to desegregate. The fact of that progress underlines that, while George Merrick himself might not have imagined our University in all of its current rich diversity, in the years since his life and death, the institution he helped found has made and continues to make substantial headway towards racial justice and equity, and we are committed to enhancing that pursuit.
In addressing renaming petitions, we sought to bring into balance our University’s diverse community and our storied past. We took three key issues into consideration. First, we examined the context in which honorees exhibited behavior that is antithetical to our shared values and hurtful to members of our community. Next, we contemplated the opportunity honorees had to express regret or correct course during their lifetimes. Finally, we considered the balance between how the impact of an honoree’s actions ran counter to or advanced the mission of the University.
Please join us in acknowledging the considerable, thorough work of the HRCN; the guidance and perspective of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Social Justice; and the impassioned students, faculty, staff, trustees, and community members who made their voices heard through a rigorous review process.
During that process, students have also advocated for a gathering space that facilitates community building and fosters a greater sense of inclusion and belonging. We are delighted to share that the administration has begun planning for an estimated $3 million renovation of nearly 13,000 square feet on the second floor of the University Center to create an expanded multi-cultural space, allowing for informal gatherings and programming for cultural organizations. This flexible space would fulfill desires expressed thus far and could be expanded to meet the needs of a number of student groups on campus. Our newly elected leaders of student organizations and the 2021-22 Student Center Complex Advisory Council will work with the administration to solicit input into the design this summer in the hopes of opening the new multi-faceted cultural space in 18 months’ time.
We are proud of the decisions the Executive Committee made tonight, and we are excited to celebrate the rich and diverse talent and commitment that continue to move the University of Miami forward. We remain hopeful that this inflection point in our ongoing conversation and actions on racial justice will add to the necessary, honest, and productive engagement that ultimately draws us together as Miami Hurricanes.
Hilarie Bass, Esq.
Chair, University of Miami Board of Trustees
President, University of Miami
I wonder if the usual contingent will howl, or if this will be accepted quietly? Meanwhile, calling the former Merrick Garage “the structure on Merrick Drive” would have the ring of “the artist formerly known as Prince” … but for the fact that the “structure on Merrick Drive” incorporates the very name they are removing, making it a bit circular, at least until they find a suitable “neutral directional name” for it. Central Garage? Or maybe, “the Southern Garage” would be slyly and geographically appropriate?
The statement explains the partial renaming by saying, “The decision regarding the street named for George Merrick himself goes beyond the purview of the Board of Trustees.” Which makes me wonder — who gets to decide the names of streets on the campus? Is this something the Coral Gables Commission regulates? If so, that may be unfriendly territory for any renaming application — although with three new members inaugurated last week, maybe things have changed.