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Abstract and Figures

A number of U.S. universities are embroiled in debates over the long-time commemoration and valorization of white supremacy through the campus landscape. Recognizing place naming as a legitimate political arena, activists have called for—and in some instances succeeded—in removing from university buildings the names of historical figures shrouded in racial controversy. However, for the broader public and even sympathetic higher education officials, there is a lack of understanding about why these demands are important and even less recognition about the violence that racially insensitive place naming inflicts on the belonging of marginalized groups. Instead, the renaming of campus landscapes is understood as merely an act of political correctness and thus campus authorities have offered uneven and incomplete solutions in the name of progressive reform. Applying recent innovations in race and memory studies, specifically the ideas of " wounded " places and " memory-work, " we situate ongoing university place naming controversies in a critical context. Specifically, we build upon the recent work of law scholar Stephen Clowney and discuss the opportunities and challenges of developing a policy of landscape fairness that recognizes the power of place to transmit ideas about racial power across generations and the right of critics to challenge dominant historical narratives.
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APPLYING CRITICAL RACE AND MEMORY STUDIES TO UNIVERSITY PLACE
NAMING CONTROVERSIES: TOWARD A RESPONSIBLE LANDSCAPE POLICY
By
Jordan Brasher, Department of Geography, University of Tennessee
Derek H. Alderman, Department of Geography, University of Tennessee
Joshua Inwood, Department of Geography and Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State
University
Abstract
A number of U.S. universities are embroiled in debates over the long-time commemoration and
valorization of white supremacy through the campus landscape. Recognizing place naming as a
legitimate political arena, activists have called forand in some instances succeededin
removing from university buildings the names of historical figures shrouded in racial
controversy. However, for the broader public and even sympathetic higher education officials,
there is a lack of understanding about why these demands are important and even less
recognition about the violence that racially insensitive place naming inflicts on the belonging of
marginalized groups. Instead, the renaming of campus landscapes is understood as merely an act
of political correctness and thus campus authorities have offered uneven and incomplete
solutions in the name of progressive reform. Applying recent innovations in race and memory
studies, specifically the ideas of “wounded” places and “memory-work,” we situate ongoing
university place naming controversies in a critical context. Specifically, we build upon the
recent work of law scholar Stephen Clowney and discuss the opportunities and challenges of
developing a policy of landscape fairness that recognizes the power of place to transmit ideas
about racial power across generations and the right of critics to challenge dominant historical
narratives.
Keywords: memory-work, landscape fairness, critical place name studies, race and place,
political correctness
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1. INTRODUCTION
To explore how geographic scholarship on race and ethnicity can address and advance public
policy and the role of social institutions in improving the life experiences of both dominant and
minority groups, professors and students need not travel any farther than their own university or
college campus. Universities support a sizable labor force and residential populations and
comprise vast built environments of dormitories, lecture halls, offices, transportation routes,
communication systems, and a range of institutionalized services. University administrators,
alumni, students and faculty engage in extensive policy-making and the creation of
administrative procedures that have important socio-spatial consequences for people and places.
Although universities do function as “public spaces,” (Gumprecht 2007) the right to claim public
space and the power to express oneself have always been open to control, contest and inequality
(Mitchell 2003). Weaved throughout the practices of even the most progressive and enlightened
institutions of higher learning are ideas about who matters or counts and whose interests should
be served and protected through the design of campus landscapes. Often this entails balancing
out diverse interest groups, some of which have large financial interests in promoting a particular
landscape narrative.
A politics of belonging is materialized and negotiated through the geographies of university
social life. A sense of belonging, while certainly experienced on a personal and emotional level,
is a socially mediated matter shaped by wider policy discourses and institutional practices at
colleges that have surprisingly gone under-analyzed by geographers of race (though see: Inwood
and Martin 2008). Universities shape the extent to which certain groups, especially people of
color, feel that they belong on campus. Perhaps no group has known or felt this fact more than
African Americans. Many of us are familiar with the violent resistance that awaited
desegregation efforts in the 1950s and 1960s and long-time debates about affirmative action and
ongoing conservative challenges to university diversity and racial/ethnic studies programs. Less
well known, until recently, is the role that the university memorial landscapespecifically its
array of named buildings and other placeshave played in valorizing public figures with
reputations for defending and perpetuating slavery, white supremacy, and racial segregation and
disenfranchisement. These commemorated individuals can serve as a “hidden curriculum” that
gives sometimes subtle, but often times overt clues about who belongs and whose histories are
important to the development of the university and its identity.
While the campus, as a racialized memorial landscape, can certainly be a place of exclusion,
it can also be a site for carrying out what Schein (2009) calls an “oppositional politics of
belonging” (p. 811). The very presence of discrimination can be the source of its potential
undoing and hence the university’s geography of naming and remembering can become a site
where marginalized groups can lay claim to the campus and struggle to create a more inclusive
and multicultural setting. Indeed, over the past few years, US colleges and universities have been
marked by the highly visible Black Lives Matter movement and other important anti-racist
struggles that have called for a renaming of campus buildings as well as a range of policy
proposals—from criminal justice reform to “diverse faculty, more ethnic-studies classes,
improved mental-health services for students of color” (Somashekhar, 2015).
We argue that the contemporary crisis over the campus place name landscape offers an
important opportunity for geographers and other spatially-oriented scholars to inform the
treatment of race and racial difference by institutions of higher learning. In addition and perhaps
more importantly, through our intervention we offer possible ideas to advance the development
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of progressive policies that ensure that the perspectives of people of color are included in major
landscape decisions. Specifically our paper applies recent innovations in race and memory
studies to place ongoing university naming controversies in a critical context, one that
characterizes the US university as “wounded” by racism and the efforts of renaming activists as
the “memory-work” of both remembering but also recovering from these wounds. We briefly
review how campus authorities at several universities in the US have sought to address their
place name controversies, and argue that these supposedly progressive reforms have been uneven
and unsatisfying in completing the memory-work of coming to grips with the legacy of white
supremacy on campus. As a result, we apply geographical concepts to practical struggles and
problems and conclude with a discussion focused on an approach to policy-making that might be
helpful for social institutions to consider as they face growing calls for commemorative place
name changes. Building upon the recent work of law scholar Stephen Clowney, our intent is to
discuss the opportunities and challenges of developing a policy of landscape fairness or
responsibility that recognizes the power of place to transmit ideas about racial power across
generations and the right of critics to challenge dominant historical narratives and encourage
officials to actively contemplate landscape values they might otherwise neglect.
2. UNIVERSITIES AS WOUNDED PLACES
To take the recent protests on university campuses seriously and place them in a
necessary larger context requires drawing from recent work that explores the geography of
racialized trauma and exclusion. The concept of “wounded cities,” developed by Karen Till
(2012), offers a productive way to analyze relationships between landscape and violence.
Defining wounded cities as “densely settled locales that have been harmed and structured by
particular histories of physical destruction, displacement, and individual and social trauma
resulting from state-perpetrated violence” (Till 2012, p. 6), Till argues that cities are wounded
and harmed over long periods of time (See also: Nixon, 2013; Springer, 2016). Her emphasis on
the structural nature of this violence is well suited for framing the role of institutions, because of
their longevity and social authority, in driving the racialization of the landscape. Thus, we
contend that the concept of wounded cities can be extended more generally to include a wider
array of geographies, including university campuses.
Our engagement with campuses as wounded places highlights the normalized violence
that has structured (and continues to structure) what may at first glance appear to be an idyllic
and apolitical landscape. To the contrary, campuses are wounded due to their connection to
white supremacy (Bonds and Inwood 2016; Inwood and Bonds 2016; Combs et al., 2016;
Wilder, 2013). Characterizing the US university as wounded might strike some readers as
disturbing, but such a perspective denies that the college campus not only reflects, but emerged
historically and geographically from racialized economic, political and cultural institutional
structures. Indeed, not only did many early university presidents and faculty members own
slaves during the antebellum period, but a number of colleges (inside and outside the Southeast)
used slave labor for the construction of their campuses and for work in their daily operations
(Wilder, 2013; Inwood and Martin 2008). Additionally, early universities were heavily invested
in the purchase and sale of land to be worked with slave labor and turned for a profit to fund the
school (Wilder, 2013). It has been argued that the use of slave labor on college campuses was so
influential that it determined the difference between financial success or failure for early colonial
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schools, suggesting that these institutions reliance and dependence upon the violence of
enslavement extends well beyond the ending of the Civil War (Wilder, 2013).
Importantly, universities also served as battlegrounds for the Civil Rights Movement of
the 1950s and 60s. In 1962, at the University of Mississippi James Meredith’s formal enrollment
sparked a firestorm of riots and white mob violence in visceral reaction to the opening of the
school to its first black student (Combs et al., 2016). Meredith’s violation of the color line
seemingly redefined the politics of racial belonging in the previously all-white Ole Miss campus,
but the vitriol he encountered served as the foundation for reinforcing the resolve of white
supremacists. President John F. Kennedy had to send in federal troops to quell the violence. As
recently as 2014, an Ole Miss student hung a noose around the statue of James Meredith on
campus (Combs et al., 2016). This recent symbolic lynching of the James Meredith statue points
to the role of universities as sites for contesting the memory of our racialized past and highlights
the fact that universities remain open and unhealed wounds within the US geography of race
relations.
As a wounded place, universities have obviously seen and participated in specific, event-
based violence and discrimination. Yet, the college campus as an institution is also complicit in
carrying out less recognized, yet no less damaging structural violences that affect the physical
and emotional welfare of people of color and access to spaces and resources. For example,
admissions policies continue a tradition of giving preferential treatment and educational access to
applicants whose parents also attended that universitysometimes called “legacy admissions.”
Since white students are far more likely to have parents who attended college, legacy admissions
act in many ways as affirmative action for white students (Lamb, 1993; Massey and Mooney,
2007). Furthermore, America’s universities remain disproportionately white in terms of student
and faculty rolls. Inequalities have been documented in the tenure process at predominantly
white institutions and these professionals, along with students of color, document an institutional
culture that does not fully recognize or proactively address the racialized histories that continue
to frame campus and college-town life (Lee and Leonard, 2001). As a result, we argue that far
from being merely sites of symbolic forms of violence, wounded campuses reproduce structural
inequalities and perpetuate geographies of white supremacy.
3. RECENT CAMPUS BUILDING NAME CONROVERSIES
Universities, like other sites of racial discrimination and violence, have been slow to
come to grips with their legacies of white supremacy and the many conspicuous and subtle ways
that the college campus has been marred historically and still today by racism and
institutionalized exclusion. Our contention, and that of a growing number of activists, is that
these wounds, due to a lack of care, have been left to fester and inflict psycho-social harm.
These unhealed and unreconciled wounds are writ large through the landscape and its
infrastructure of monuments, memorials, and place names commemorating Confederate soldiers,
Ku Klux Klan leaders, segregationists, and slave-owners. As Wilder (2013) documents, these
realities are found throughout the US and not just predominantly in the southeastern states.
Disturbingly, while the racist ideologies invoked by these historical figures have been officially
discredited and challenged by many US colleges, their continued memorial presence structures
the everyday commemorative campus landscapes within which students, faculty and the wider
public interact. These landscape legacies of white supremacy are much more than relic or
obsolete landscapes from a bygone era; rather, they are points of unresolved and unreconciled
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racial tension that actively limit the extent to which racial and ethnic minority groups engage
with university campuses.
Campus memorialsincluding commemoratively named buildingsare not empty
symbols. Inwood and Martin (2008) found that students of color perceived the University of
Georgia campus as sometimes unwelcoming because the landscape concealed, rather than truly
grappled with, the pain and struggle of desegregation. Even though the university had tried to
commemorate the desegregation of the campus, it left out problematic understandings of the way
that race had historically structured the creation of the university. As a result, we can see how
whiteness continues to operate on campuses by creating seemingly progressive narratives that
address race, but in ways that do not fully recognize the complexity of the history of white
supremacy and cordon off the degree to which it may be challenged. Building from this insight
we argue that it is important to recognize the way universities have handled controversies
surrounding the renaming of placesways that, despite sometimes good intentions, limit rather
than expose the broader understanding of the fundamental role race plays in the university
setting. In other words, while some of the strategies appear to be anti-racism reforms, they
nonetheless can still illustrate the limits to which colleges are willing to deal with their racialized
wounds. In what follows, we explore place name controversies on select US university campuses
that have unfolded over the past decade to illustrate how universities have grappled with
controversies arising from the toponymic commemoration of white supremacists. These
illustrations are not intended to be exhaustive case studies but instead provide insight into the
varied obstacles confronting renaming activists and the arguably unsatisfying solutions offered
by campus authorities in reforming and rewriting the campus landscape.
Our first place renaming controversy comes from Oklahoma State University (OSU),
which debated in 2006-2007 whether or not to rename its Murray Hall. Murray Hall
commemorates an early governor of Oklahoma—“Alphalpha” Bill Murray. Known for anti-
black and anti-Semitic views, Murray essentially wrote Jim Crow laws into the state’s
constitution. Efforts by the Student Government Association to petition for the renaming of the
building were met with hostility. One senior student in political science suggested the building
be named for Clara Luper, noted civil rights activist who led some of the nation’s first sit-ins in
Oklahoma and the United States (O’Colly, 2006; Reese, 2003). While the Faculty Council
supported her recommendation, one faculty member in the Department of History opposed the
unnaming publicly. He and another faculty member engaged in a fierce open-forum debate, and
the university ultimately chose to keep the Murray name and erect a panoramic display that
narrates the life and legacy of the governor. This display is located in the basement outside the
main auditorium of the building and prompts passersby to consider how to “confront complex
legacies” (Figure 1) and “what is in a name?” (Figure 2). This effort at contextualization without
renaming the building is one way that universities have dealt with the toponymic
commemoration of a white supremacist on campus. While the Oklahoma State approach is
consistent with a growing strategy on campuses that argues for using racialized commemorations
to teach present and future generations about the evils and injustices of the past, it is noteworthy
that carrying out such education requires that contextualized interpretations of historical figures
be given prominent locations that truly affect the way the public understands and possibly values
a buildings namesake. The extent to which Murray Hall’s panoramic display accomplishes that
in its location outside the building’s main auditorium but in its basement is up for debate.
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FIGURE 1
OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY ASKS PASSERSBY TO CONSIDER CONFRONTING
COMPLEX LEGACIES OF RETAINING THE MURRAY HALL NAME.
PHOTO TAKEN BY THOMAS CRAIG, USED WITH PERMISSION.
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FIGURE 2
MURRAY HALL DISPLAY ASKS PASSERSBY TO CONSIDER THE MEANING OF THE
COMMEMORATIVE PLACE NAME.
PHOTO TAKEN BY THOMAS CRAIG. USED WITH PERMISSION.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) handled a similar controversy quite differently.
Saunders Hall, the home of the Department of Geography, commemorated Col. William
Saunders, an 1854 graduate of UNC and a former North Carolina Secretary of State widely
known for leading the expansion of the Ku Klux Klan in the state of North Carolina. University
officials named the building for Saunders in 1922, citing his status as a leader of the KKK as a
major qualification for his commemoration. Resistance to the name surfaced on social media
with the #KickOuttheKKK slogan and protestors stood outside the building with
#BlackLivesMatter signs and those that said “This is what Saunders would do to me” while
invoking the powerful symbolism of lynching by hanging nooses around their necks (Figure 3).
One professor unofficially renamed the building with a sign over her door that said “Hurston
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Hall” to honor African American writer, anthropologist, and activist Zora Neale Hurston, who
unofficially attended UNC prior to integration. Students took on the cause by hanging a banner
over an entrance to the building denoting the counter-commemoration and even writing it on the
ground in sidewalk chalk (Figure 4). After a year of deliberation, in 2015 the UNC Board of
Trustees voted to remove the Saunders moniker and rename the building Carolina Hall.
Questions circled about whether Carolina Hall was a suitable surrogate name or stand-in for anti-
racism and why the university chose not to go with the appellation of Hurston Hall.
The UNC case prompts the larger question: to what extent does the use of more generic
names like Carolina Hall, which appear on the surface to be unifying, progressive campus
decisions that take a “colorblind” approach to remembering the past, actually represent a step
forward in coming to grips with the landscape legacies of discrimination and violence?
Arguably, Carolina Hall signals an attempt to move on from valorizing the overt white
supremacy of past generations without dealing with the structural wounds that supposedly race-
neutral policies produce in the neoliberal university. Important to the goal of African Americans
and other marginalized groups creating an oppositional politics of belonging is not simply
removing symbols to white supremacy but also resolving the invisibility of people of color
within the university’s social memory, suggesting that de-commemoration alone is not enough
but also counter-commemoration. This is especially clear in UNC’s case given that students
involved in the protest movement held up a banner bearing the words “Can you see us now?”
(Figure 5). However, there will be few future chances for the Chapel Hill campus to engage in
such landscape change since the UNC Board of Trustees soon after voted to ban changing
building names at the university for the next 16 yearsthus another indication of the
institution’s unwillingness to address the broader landscapes of inequality on campus.
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FIGURE 3
STUDENTS GATHER OUTSIDE SAUNDERS HALL IN 2015 TO DEMAND THE NAME
BE CHANGED TO HURSTON HALL.
PHOTO TAKEN BY OMOLOLU BABATUNDE, USED WITH PERMISSION.
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FIGURE 4
A BANNER AND SIDEWALK CHALK REPRESENT THE INFORMAL RENAMING OF
SAUNDERS HALL TO “HURSTON HALL.
PHOTO TAKEN BY OMOLOLU BABATUNDE, USED WITH PERMISSION.
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FIGURE 5
STUDENTS HOLD UP A BANNER THAT READS “CAN YOU SEE US NOW?” IN
EFFORT TO RENDER VISIBLE THE FORGOTTEN AND LONG-SILENCED HISTORIES
OF PEOPLE OF COLOR ON UNC’S CAMPUS.
PHOTO TAKEN BY OMOLOLU BABATUNDE, USED WITH PERMISSION.
Other place naming controversies must maneuver through layers of bureaucracy and
legislation at different scales in order to be renamed. Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)
recently petitioned the Tennessee Historical Commission to rename Forrest Hallwhich
commemorates Confederate general and Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. After
several months of deliberation, a task force of professors, students, politicians, and community
members ultimately decided that Forrest’s name did not belong on campus, though that decision
was not without heated opposition. The university requested that the historical commission
rename the structure to the Army ROTC Building (since it is home to the ARMY ROTC
department), following UNC’s logic of selecting a colorblind name that would presumably skirt
around additional controversy or public, media attention. It remains to be seen whether or not the
historical commission will allow the building to be renamed, and it will be especially hard to
justify given Tennessee’s Heritage Preservation Act, which prohibits the renaming, removal, or
relocating of any military monument or item honoring a military unit or person. The Southern
Heritage News and Views (2013) website, self-described as dedicated to defending the honor of
the Confederacy, celebrated the act as “one of the greatest documents in modern history for the
protection and preservation of this state’s and nation’s military history and heritage.” Such state-
level legislation may prove a significant barrier to local activists and students seeking to rename
places on university campus landscapes.
It is important to note that southern land grant universities like OSU, UNC, and MTSU
are not the only institutions dealing with place name controversies. Ivy League schools like
Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Georgetown have also been embroiled in commemorative place
name debates. Stanford has two freshman dorms, a campus building, and a campus street named
for Junípero Serra, a Catholic missionary who colonized California for Spain in the 18th century
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and is implicated in the conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism, the suppression of their
culture, and ultimately subjecting indigenous people to disease and violence. The undergraduate
student senate passed a resolution requesting the university rename all structures honoring Serra
in early 2016, and like MTSU, decisions about whether or not and how to rename these elements
of the memorial landscape must go through another round of bureaucracy and have yet to be
resolved.
Yale University has been among those universities receiving the most national attention
for its campus renaming controversy. As an elite east coast Ivy League school, its
commemorative legacies are more attractive to media coverage outlets since they represent in the
American imagination the backbone of the country’s historical prowess and progress. The
campus contains John C. Calhoun Hall, a residential hall that honors the seventh vice president
of the United States who not only owned slaves but notoriously described slavery as a “positive
good” for American society. The building received national news attention in the summer of
2016 when a campus cafeteria worker named Corey Menafee used his broom to punch a hole in
a dining hall stained glass window that depicted slaves carrying bales of cotton. Menafee works
in the building and is not connected to broader student-led efforts to rename the building, but
grew tired of looking at the image day in and day out. Recently, freshman student activist
Branson Rideaux dressed as a slave in shackles and stood outside the contested building on
campus to protest the election of President Donald Trump with a sign around his neck reading
“Property of John C. Calhoun and 56,682,202+ American voters”. Rideaux is quoted as saying
that for him, the link between Calhoun and Trump is obvious: “[they both] run on messages of
hate” (JETmag.com, 2016).
In November 2016, Yale released a document outlining the procedure for administrators
and trustees to consider building name change requests. The policy came in response to the
growing tension on campus surrounding the Calhoun name. The report states: “There is a strong
presumption against renaming a building on the basis of the values associated with its namesake.
Such a renaming should be considered only in exceptional circumstances” (our emphasis, Yale
University, 2016). It goes on to outline principles for consideration that include the extent to
which the legacy of the namesake is fundamentally at odds with the mission of the university, the
extent to which the legacy was contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived,
whether or not the university honored the namesake for reasons at odds with the mission of the
university, and the role of the namesake in forming community at the university.
The burden of determining the degree to which the namesake was contested in the time
and place at which the honoree lived is particularly odd and seems to favor crystallizing the
names of white supremacists in place, since presumably support for the institution of chattel
slavery cannot be judged against modern conceptions of morality. To request a building be
renamed, an application must be submitted that states the grounds on which the name should be
changed and specifies how the principles on renaming require that the name be changed. The
report is to be reviewed by the university president, following consultation with cabinet
members, who will decide whether or not to appoint an advisor who has relevant knowledge and
expertise about the subject to advise the president on the matter.
The Calhoun controversy at Yale highlights several things. The first is the connections
between campus place naming controversies and wider social tensions including the current
political climate, the recent presidential election, and controversies surrounding other
commemorations of white supremacist people and institutions. The second is the degree to which
commemorative place naming is recognized as a social and political act that actively produces
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knowledge about the past, rather than passively recording objective facts and producing
authentic historical narratives. Yale’s report says that there is a strong presumption against
renaming a building on the basis of values associated with a namesake. Does this not ignore the
fact that commemorative place names have always selectively communicated (and silenced) sets
of values through the memorial landscape? Finally, it highlights the degree to which place
naming practices produce socially fair and just memorial landscapes. Who has access to the
place naming process and to what extent do other universities include or exclude students from
that process?
The Yale report and resulting policy arguably limit the likelihood of campus place name
change, but the procedures put in place nonetheless informed the university’s decision about
Calhoun Hall. Under the growing pressure of protests, Yale’s president and governing board
announced in February 2017 that the contested residential hall would be renamed, citing
recommendations from an advisory committee created as a result of the new policy. Yale also
announced that Calhoun’s name would be replaced by noted female computer scientist, Navy
rear admiral, and 1930s alumna Grace Murray Hopper. The de-commemoration of Calhoun and
the elevation of Hopper was an important moment of memory-work, particularly when one
considers the scarcity of places across the US named for women. Yet, what appears to be a
progressive reform of the campus landscape does not fully recover a black sense of place. Critics
questioned why a moniker honoring an African American alumnus would not identify the
renamed hall. Moreover, even as Yale’s president announced the defrocking of the defender of
slavery, he reaffirmed his conservative views about renaming buildings and repeated the
common refrain of not wishing to erase history (The Washington Post, 2017). This suggests to us
that the current Yale policy cordons off the degree to which white supremacy may be challenged
on and through the toponymic landscape.
Perhaps a brighter example of the ways that universities have attempted to deal with their
legacies of white supremacy and make a place for African American memory is the case of
Georgetown University (GU). In the fall of 2015, Georgetown convened the Working Group on
Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation to explore the university’s role in the institution of slavery,
to engage the community in dialogue, and to outline a set of recommendations on how to guide
future efforts, according to the working group’s website (Working Group, 2016). In September
2016, the group released a report detailing those next steps for the university. In the report’s
section “Recommendations to the President,” the first recommendation is to permanently rename
two buildings on campus. These two buildings, once named McSherry and Mulledy Halls,
formerly commemorated two university presidents who organized the sale of Jesuit-owned
slaves to help pay off campus debt in the 1830s. Though the two buildings were renamed to
Remembrance and Freedom Halls respectively in 2015, the report suggests that these names are
inadequate to sufficiently remember the ties between the university and the institution of slavery.
Instead, the working group’s report suggests the buildings be named Isaac Hall and Anne
Marie Becraft Hall to honor two people of color. Isaac Hall would honor the first enslaved
person named in the articles of agreement between Mulledy and the other men to whom he
agreed to sell slaves. Isaac’s full name is not known. Anne Marie Becraft is described in the
report as “a woman of color, a trailblazing educator, a person with deep family roots in the
neighborhood of Georgetown, and a Catholic religious sister in the nineteenth century” (Working
Group, 2016, p. 36). Each of these suggestions would move beyond the current colorblind
renaming practices on the campus (Freedom Hall, Remembrance Hall) and move toward actively
remembering the life of an enslaved person and a local influential woman of color. This is a bold
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recommendation considering UNC’s Carolina Hall and MTSU’s Army ROTC Building
selections as surrogate names and memorials, which do not actively voice narratives that
remember people of color and perpetuate a forgetting of the African American experience even if
the replacement is perceived by authorities as conflict-averse. It remains to be seen whether or
not Georgetown’s president will accept these recommendations from the working group.
4. RENAMING AS MEMORY-WORK
A perspective that takes racialized wounds seriously recognizes that the politics of
memory are important for understanding any place that has experienced “difficult histories of
state-perpetrated violence” (Till, 2012, p. 7). What the case of Georgetown and the other
university building name controversies suggest is that it is difficult work to adequately remember
the legacies of white supremacy that have so deeply wounded universities. The politics of
remembering and forgetting are hotly contested on campus landscapes across the nation, whether
they are public land grant schools in the southeastern US or elite private schools on the coasts.
The broad effort to bring recognition and visibility to silenced historical narratives and memories
is what Till (2012) calls “memory-work.” Memory-work, among other things, creates new forms
of public memory, is committed to building social capacity, and opening up opportunities for
marginalized people to lay claim to a sense of belonging on the memorial landscape.
The concept of “memory-work” is an apt metaphor for reminding us that how we
remember and come to terms with traumatic pasts is not a passive, inevitable process but one that
decidedly requires certain measures of physical, intellectual, emotional, and political labor. Civil
Rights struggles in general, whether they revolve around public commemoration or not, can be
conceptualized as involving a reworking of the spatial and social patterns of inequality
(Alderman and Inwood, 2016). The work of (re)naming places, in particular, has not traditionally
been seen as being part of the active practices of social (in)justice. However, recent scholarship
in critical memory and naming studies suggest otherwisethat the power to name and remember
gains one access to the power to define a sense of place (or out of place), not only for oneself but
for others who internalize, use, and draw identity from these memorialized place names
(Azaryahu, 2011; Alderman and Inwood, 2013).
We argue that naming and renaming buildings on university campuses offer the
opportunity to engage in a form of memory-work. Universities that construct new buildings can
take the opportunity to name them after their own Isaacs and Anne Marie Becrafts. Campuses
considering renaming buildings can carefully select surrogate names that are not benignly
colorblind but instead actively remember and honor the lives of people of color. Ultimately, for
renaming to engage with the important and consequential work of memory, changing the name is
just a start (Inwood and Alderman, 2016). The selection of a surrogate name to replace the old
one is important in the process of grappling with universities’ legacies of white supremacy, and
winning approval for the use of one surrogate name over another (or to even have a surrogate for
the African American experience) requires creative political practices of activists and other
reformists. This resistant memory-work, while dependent upon protest tactics and applying
pressure within the institutional setting of the university, will ultimately require the
establishment of more general policies to guide campus landscape memorial change and
renaming decisions.
Without some administrative guidance and the formal writing of memory-work into
university policy, then the movement to reclaim the university as a “wounded place” and to
15
transform it into a more just landscape of racial identity and belonging will be left to the
particularities of individual campus disputes or, in the case of UNC and Yale, the preemptive
creation of campus policy that clearly confines the kind of necessarily radical memory-work that
can even be proposed to authorities not to mention approved. As mentioned earlier, there is an
imperative in not only studying and critiquing the struggle to rename the US college campus but
also a need to assist our university colleagues by offering an applied policy perspective on how
university campuses might pursue this important memory-work involving place names. In doing
so, we build upon law scholar Stephen Clowney (2013) who developed a Landscape Impact
Assessment (LIA) to make the renaming process more equitable and outline steps toward
creating a fairer and more socially just campus memorial landscape. In the following section, we
discuss Clowney’s vision of a policy of landscape fairness and identify the opportunities and
challenges that accompany it. It is impossible to formulate a flawless policy, but Clowney
provides potentially important guidance in re-orienting how decision-makers and authorities
approach landscapes as sets of values and meanings and the responsibility that is owed to the
public in paying attention to the historical needs and wounds of marginalized people of color.
5. TOWARD A POLICY OF LANDSCAPE FAIRNESS
Yale’s recent renaming policy asserts that (re)naming places based on values creates a
strong a priori presumption against changing the name. Given this context, what would a policy
of landscape fairness look like? Clowney (2013) recognizes the powerful capacity of the
landscape to “uncritically smuggle” ideas about race and racial hierarchy into “the ether of
everyday existence” (p. 9). He offers a “comprehensive procedural strategy to integrate
consideration of the built environment into the fiber of municipal decisionmaking, terming it the
LIA (Clowney, 2013, p. 44). The purpose of an LIA is to stop the production of discriminatory
public spaces by encouraging local governments to consider the racial ramifications of actions
that alter or affect the landscape. It would also require decisionmakers to consider the impact that
the built environment has on the meanings communicated through the landscape, provide a
written assessment of those meanings to the public for consumption and review, and to relay a
report outlining public feedback about the features of the built environment back to
decisionmakers.
Clowney (2013) argues that such a report would empower African American
communities to have their narratives heard, push local officials to consider race-conscious
information in an era of colorblindness when making decisions about landscape design and
change, and mitigate the psychological harm that discriminatory public spaces impose on
African Americans and their sense of belonging. Ultimately, an LIA is an attempt to implement a
formal legal procedure that works toward fairness in landscape representation. Till (2012)
suggests that the right to represent that past is intricately tied to the process of democracy and
that “attending to, caring for, and being cared for by place and those that inhabit place are
significant ethical and political practices that work to constitute more democratic” spaces (p. 5).
There are many challenges associated with dismantling the robust political machinery
that stands in the way of counter memory-work and which might interfere with the
implementation of an LIA. First, there is the question of how an LIA might apply to already
existing discriminatory or under-/misrepresented public spaces. In other words, how could
adopting an LIA apply to existing naming controversies? Clowney (2013) suggests that an LIA
would need to implement a sunset clause to address already existing naming controversies. A
16
sunset clause would grandfather in existing place names and subject each of them to the scrutiny
of an LIA. Local governments and universities alike may find that subjecting every existing
structure on a campus, for example, to such a policy would be an unwise or wasteful use of time
and resources, and elect instead to only subject those names which have caused controversy to
undergo the process of approval by an LIA. But then what about place names that go largely
unchallenged that may still in fact honor people whose legacies may be at odds with the
university’s stated values? The question of how to apply an LIA to existing place names may
need to be explicitly considered.
Additionally, there is the challenge of engaging and moving beyond the discourse of so-
called political correctness,” which is invoked by both conservatives and liberals in unhelpful
ways that reduce struggles over symbols, names, and memory to simply a matter of semantics
rather than the very real patterns of social (in)equality that underlie patterns of cultural
representation. There will inevitably be university presidents and other administrators who argue
that the implementation of an LIA is a project in political correctness with no real added value to
the campus environment. It is here that we would point to the role academic geographers can
play in publicly engaging if not challenging the discourse of political correctness. Academic
geographers can draw on critical place name studies to highlight the socially constructed nature
of the memorial landscape in order to argue that place names have never been neutral markers of
location that objectively recorded history. Instead, they have always been enmeshed with
relations of political power and have been actively creating our selective, collective memories.
Indeed, what is dismissed administratively as a project in political correctness is more effectively
conceptualized as a matter of social and political justice from the standpoint of people of color
like Corey Menafee who have lived and worked daily under the burden of memorialized
reminders of white supremacy. Academic geographers can help combat the discourse of political
correctness through partnering with university administrators as they work to implement an LIA
and engage the public with conversations about how and why commemorative place names
matter. Faculty members and students alike can thus play a central role in cultivating a
responsible geography of memory (Till and Kuusito-Arponen, 2015) on their own campuses.
Another challenge related to the discourse of political correctness is the notion that taking
down place names that commemorate white supremacists is somehow erasing history. However,
this anxiety over erasing the past is selective and misguided for several reasons. As we argue
above, place names do not and never have existed in a vacuum, instead serving as sites for
struggling over the right to access and belong in public space and to selectively narrate the past.
Additionally, place names are not objective historical imprints on a tabula rasa that accurately or
objectively recordmuch less interpretthe past. A study by the Southern Poverty Law Center
(2016) found that about a third of the US schools that bear the names of Confederate soldiers and
generals were constructed and named between 1950 and 1970, suggesting an effort to resist the
Civil Rights Movement and valorize the Lost Cause historical myth, rather than to objectively
record or contextualize the past. Demonstrating to campus decisionmakers that place names are
enmeshed in these wider networks of social and racial power and not part of an objective
historical narrative will be key to convincing them of the need for taking down the names of
white supremacists and engaging with the difficult work of memory.
Though the challenges to implementing an LIA may seem steep, there are also many
opportunities that such a policy can create. These opportunities include but are not limited to: (1)
halting the production of discriminatory campus space, (2) requiring university administrators to
consider or at least take responsibility for the meanings (re)produced in and through the
17
landscape and its named features, (3) providing written assessment of student/faculty/public
feedback and creating points of intervention in a naming process that typically happens behind
closed doors, (4) empowering African American students/faculty/communities to have their
narratives heard, both throughout the (re)naming process and ultimately on and through the
landscape itself, (5) producing race-conscious information in the age of colorblindness for
decisionmakers to consider, and (6) mitigating the psychological harm or violence that
discriminatory public spaces impose on African American students, faculty, and members of the
community.
The core of an LIA lies in producing a draft impact assessment that “analyzes how a
proposed project would affect the meaning of the landscape” (Clowney, 2013, p. 45). Since this
document is the “marrow” of an LIA, it is important that it is given thoughtful compliance
(Clowney 2013, p. 45). The impact assessment would “compel governments to describe the
landscape at issue, chronicle its history, clarify what the space means to the people who [inhabit
it], and explain whether the proposed construction efforts would negatively impact minority
populations or ingrain ideas about racial power” (Clowney, 2013, p.45-46). The LIA would also
compel university administration to inform campus citizens of reasonable alternatives to any
proposal that is found to negatively impact minority communities. At this stage the LIA would
also need to include nonarbitrary reasons the administration chose to move forward with or reject
the proposed construction. Finally, a period of public review and comment of the proposal would
inform campus citizens about the construction and elicit their views about moving forward with
it. This would provide an opportunity for landscape interventions by students, faculty, concerned
citizens or activists who often have little say in the landscape design process, especially naming
places. After a period of public hearing, the findings should be conveyed to the appropriate
landscape decisionmakerswhich must include representatives of minority groupsand a final
document produced that responds in detail to each of the public’s concerns much in the same
way that environmental regulatory compliance dictates. This is perhaps the most critical LIA
component because it would force officials to grapple with criticisms and considerations they
might have otherwise overlooked. Clowney (2013) argues that such a procedure works because it
empowers minority and other marginalized communities to have their voices heard in an official
capacity, changes government behavior by forcing better-informed decisions, and ultimately
undoing the violence of memory.
We argue that an LIA would also engage with the geospatial work of African American
resistance (Alderman and Inwood, 2016) and create Black geographies (McKittrick and Woods,
2007; Bledsoe et al., 2017), which places emphasis on using places to recover the history of the
African American struggle for equality and self-determination. It has the potential to transform
landscapes characterized by dispossession through dominant narrations of social memory into
places of inclusion where African Americans in particular can lay claim to a sense of belonging
and citizenship while also grounding their stories within official local and campus
commemorative accounts. African American citizens who suggest alternative place names (Clara
Luper at OSU, Zora Neale Hurston at UNC) during the period of public hearing will have
renewed opportunity to create geographies of race and memory by highlighting by name the
ways in which African American communities and historical figures creatively resisted and
survived systemic oppression and contributed to the campus’ sense(s) of place. Ultimately an
LIA provides an opportunity to actively resist the taken-for-granted social and spatial order and
create new spacesBlack geographieson campus.
18
6. CONCLUSION
Sadly, the analysis of the university as a site of racialization is not commonplace within
the field of applied geography, although a number of colleagues use their campuses as
laboratories for teaching environmental and social issues (Hudak, 2003; Bardekjian et al., 2012;
Hansen, 2016) and other scholars examine the range of planning issues that face colleges in the
areas of transportation, sustainability, and housing (Balsas, 2003; Jensen and Winters, 2012;
Nejati and Nejati 2013; Seitz et al., 2014). Geographers would not think twice about traveling
halfway around the world to study inequalities and struggles in another country or continent, but
somehow the world right outside the window of our faculty and student offices goes under-
analyzed. In spite of this neglect, the college campus as a social institutional landscape has
shaped and continues to shape the sense of belonging and dignity of generations of students,
including those coming from African American families traditionally denied access to these
places of higher learning and social opportunity. Recent protests by students of color and white
allies over the valorization of racist historical figures through the design and naming of the
campus built environment offer an opportunity for critical cultural geographers of race and
memory not only to study these issues but also perhaps make “landscape interventions” and
inform the rewriting of public spaces and places in ways that are sensitive to the historical and
contemporary experiences of traditionally marginalized social actors and groups. It is within this
intellectual and political context that we have written this paper and it is our hope that
geographers will increase their willingness to critically analyze their campus landscapes in terms
of social justice, following the excellent examples of Cravey and Petit (2012) and Barnd (2016).
This paper suggests that universities are wounded places in need of memory-work to
mend the wounds of racial violence. It also offers an applied policy perspective on how
universities as institutions can work toward creating a campus landscape that is fair and socially
just. In recognition of the powerful role institutions play in the racialization of the landscape, our
paper highlights some of the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing a
Landscape Impact Assessment (LIA), which would require university administrators to
consciously consider the impacts of the built environment on its inhabitants. An LIA may disrupt
the neoliberal emphasis on efficiency and productivity in administrative decision-making, but
also stands to help mitigate the psychological trauma imposed on African American students,
faculty, and staff who live and work on campuses that under-/misrepresent and distort African
American historical narratives while championing white supremacist ones. While we have
focused here on applying an LIA to work to resolve the invisibility on campus of African
Americans in particular, further research on place naming and renaming controversies should
consider how other axes of identity like ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are impacted by the
struggle over the toponymic landscape. Ultimately, we argue that universities should consider
developing an LIA when faced with place naming controversies and as a matter of practicing
fairness in the work to recover the campus landscape from its role in valorizing white supremacy.
7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors wish to thank Thomas Craig for the pictures of the panorama display in Murray Hall
on the campus of Oklahoma State University and Omololu Babatunde for the pictures of Hurston
Hall at the University of North Carolina. We also wish to thank Dr. John Frazier for the
invitation to participate in this special issue.
19
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In this paper, we bring together the hope of regenerative development with mobilities literature broadly and actor-network theory specifically to explicate a regenerative memorialization paradigm. Regenerative memorialization emphasizes the inherent (im)mobilities of memory – the flows and networks associated with people, ideas, materials, capital, and development that constitute memorial landscapes – and the reparative and self-healing possibilities of those landscapes as part of constantly evolving sociocultural systems. Applying this paradigm to the dynamic geographies of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, we illustrate the power of memory on the move where the past is connected to the present and the aspirations for the future via complex actor networks, charting paths toward more socially just futures for the American South. Finally, we argue for participatory mapping of actants and actor networks, more diverse social justice organizations creating and connecting to existing cultural spaces for and landscapes of memory, and accordingly, that intersectionality guide these practices, for a future of regenerative memorialization in the South.
... built by enslaved Africans on land stolen from Native peoples; La paperson, 2017;Wilder, 2014). Brasher, Alderman, & Inwood, (2017) describe college and university campuses as "wounded places" that are shaped and harmed by histories of epistemic and physical state violence (destruction, displacement, etc.) that results in traumas to both the individual and society. Further Brasher et al., (2017) wrote that these places, emerged historically and geographically from racialized economic, political, and cultural institutional structures. ...
... Brasher, Alderman, & Inwood, (2017) describe college and university campuses as "wounded places" that are shaped and harmed by histories of epistemic and physical state violence (destruction, displacement, etc.) that results in traumas to both the individual and society. Further Brasher et al., (2017) wrote that these places, emerged historically and geographically from racialized economic, political, and cultural institutional structures. Indeed, not only did many early university presidents and faculty members own slaves during the antebellum period, but a number of colleges (inside and outside the Southeast) used slave labor for the construction of their campuses and for work in their daily operations, (p. ...
... 294) These places emerged in histories of state violence and are both embedded in and have benefitted from ideologies of White supremacy and gendered racism. They also continue to produce and sustain societal inequity (Brasher et al., 2017). To think that the mission of higher education is not bound up in place-beyond a setting for social relations-would be ill-informed at best. ...
Thesis
Emerging adulthood (ages 18-29) is a developmental period in which individuals explore their identities, achieve status markers (e.g., marriage), and become able to participate more fully in democracy (Arnett, 2000). There has been substantial exploration of emerging adulthood broadly, but relatively little attention has been paid to emerging adult aged Black women and the ways they navigate the world, their identities, and their sociopolitical development. This dissertation investigated the role of social identities (e.g., race and gender), cultural ideologies (i.e., religiosity/spirituality), and spatial context (i.e., cities and urban higher education institutions) in the SPD of Black emerging adult women (BEAW). Across three studies, I used conceptual frames linking SPD, urban place, religiosity/spirituality (SET- RS Urban; Mattis et al., 2019), Black placemaking, and Black feminist geography (Hunter et al., 2016; McKittrick, 2006) to address three intersecting questions. Study 1 used survey data to address the question: To what extent are religiosity/spirituality and urban place associated with SPD (measured by critical reflection, critical agency, and critical action) among BEAW? In Study 2, I used a qualitative approach and asked: How, if at all, does the religiosity/spirituality of BEAW influence their sociopolitical development? In Study 3, I used a qualitative approach informed by Black feminist epistemology to address the question: How do the ways that BEAW “make place” (i.e., experience, perceive, and imagine urban places—especially urban universities) inform their sociopolitical development? Taken as a whole, these three studies produced new understandings of the ways that urban places and identity engender sociopolitical reflection, efficacy, and action among BEAW. First, Study 1 demonstrated that the various manifestations of religiosity and spirituality are associated with different domains of SPD among BEAW. These findings offered a call to researchers to 1) more thoroughly investigate the dimensions of religiosity and spirituality through communally based measures, and 2) investigate broader denominational, ideological, and regional differences in the socialization of BEAW and how these relate to SPD. Study 2 highlighted that BEAW used religiosity/spirituality as a source of efficacy and motivation as they pursued social justice. Participants placed their actions in a larger and narrative of Divinely-guided justice. This enabled them to undertake the work of justice as a moral good and a as an effort tied to divine purpose. Finally, participants saw themselves as a part of a spiritual sisterhood which allowed them to collectively reflect and engage in critical actions. In Study 3, participant narratives highlight that BEAW critically reflect on and navigate spatial manifestations of oppression in their cities and campuses while at the same time endeavoring to ameliorate these ills through Black placemaking. Further, BEAW not only resist oppressions in these places. They actively cultivate joy and celebrate their everyday existence as Black women.
... upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition" (American Battlefield Trust, 1861b). Scholars in fields such as anthropology, literature and rhetoric, sociology, public history, cultural geography, memory studies, and others have critically analyzed the politics of writing US Southern textbooks and school standards (Bailey, 1991;Loewen, 2007;Sebesta, 2012), constructing, relocating, and removing monuments to Confederate heroes (Cox, 2003(Cox, , 2021Domby, 2020;Sheehan and Speights-Binet, 2019;Wahlers, 2015), (re)naming streets and schools after Confederate soldiers (Brasher et al., 2017;Hague and Sebesta, 2011;Levy et al., 2017), and fighting to retain traces of Confederate imagery within official state buildings and flags and on courthouse grounds and centrally located plazas Leib, 2001, 2002). Studies of Confederate and US Southern memory politics, as a result, have often focused on the racialized memories of enslavement to the exclusion of Indigenous genocide and dispossession (but see Denson, 2017). ...
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The crisis over Confederate memory in the United States has dominated international headlines since the tragic events of racist violence associated with the 2017 Charlottesville tragedy. Yet the scale of debate and attention paid to this crisis has been mostly limited to the United States, despite the globalized nature of Confederate memory politics. Little known is the fact that after the US Civil War, several thousand ex-Confederates migrated to Brazil where descendants still celebrate their heritage with a festival that draws thousands to a rural area of São Paulo state. A descendant-curated museum also narrates the Confederate migration. Drawing on work in critical settler colonial and comparative racial and ethnic studies, the "transcultural turn" in memory studies, and a year of fieldwork, this article traces the crisis of Confederate memory to the interior of São Paulo, Brazil, and explores the global impact the 2017 Charlottesville tragedy has had on Confederate commemoration.
... For Till, the memory-work in these cities operates as mourning practices where participants confront and take responsibility for the failures of the democratic state and its violence, 'providing the possibilities to imagine more socially just cities through place-based practices of care ' (2012, 7). Examples of memory-work responding to the harm caused by traditional memorials can be found in the act of removing racially offensive monuments, leading renaming campaigns for university sites and vindicating intersectional scholarship aiming to expose the historical links between higher education and white male supremacy (e.g., Brasher, Alderman, and Joshua 2017). Alderman and Inwood have been exploring the politics of commemorating the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr in US streets. ...
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This paper argues that streets and squares performing commemorative events in relation to their assigned names could be seen as sites of memory. It focuses on how in these urban landmarks memories and legacies of exile could be addressed using public places as memory-work in the context of civic memory. To support these conclusions, I will analyse Barcelona’s square named after Salvador Allende to argue that the square and its yearly commemorative events operate as memory-work in relation to Chilean exiles (1973–1990), functioning for mourning practices of long-term unresolved traumatic memory of political persecution. The square though operates also as a memory-work for other interrupted political projects, their cultural traumas and political exiles, in this case, of the Spanish Second Republic (1939–1975). This transfer of narratives of commemoration transforms the square into a site of memory with several layers of societal values, and thanks to them both integration processes and a sense of belonging could operate among all communities involved, exiles, migrants and locals. This encounter of layers of political memory transforms the square in a site of memory (a heritage place of exile) for democracy and human rights, and fosters belonging to a polity that transcends local and national boundaries.
... Moreover, this photo visually represents an intersection of political power with the geographic space of a public campus. Public higher education campus landscapes have been theorized as arenas for contesting power and social issues (Brasher et al. 2017, Luke & Heynen 2019. The campaigning shown in these tweets represents an active participation of politicians in the public campus arena by wielding football fandom in the hopes of increasing political power. ...
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As the rhetorical performances of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work continue to proliferate and sell a movement towards more equitable institutions, the authors challenge this rhetoric as merely a new mode of epistemological and territorial expropriation. Instead, the authors put forth the concept of shadow work, which happens as a result of the failures of DEI work. Through a dialogue among the three authors, they parse where, how, and why shadow work happens to compose collective understandings of shadow work. Through collaborative storytelling, the authors invite readers to begin a practice of bearing witness to the structural work that must be done in the shadows, quietly and collaboratively, to remain on this “side” of the profession’s gated faculty community. The authors invite readers to engage in their own critiques of the academic assembly line reproducing dominant rhetorics of diversity.
Chapter
The act of remembering is an integral part of sustaining the memory of places through their palimpsests. The regenerative transformations of cities (Cheshmehzangi and Munday, 2021) may sometimes change the physicality of places. However, our memories could still be attached to the histories of places that we indefinitely remember. Regardless of their historical significance, there is the rhetoric of time, memory, and origins (De Groote, 2014) in the way places are distinguished and remembered (Huyssen, 2003). The act of remembering itself is widely recognised as a phenomenological study of the relationship between memory and place (Donhoe, 2014), through which we recognise the palimpsests of various types (e.g., memory, tradition, and place). This fact is more visible in the cases of urban memorial landscapes and political situations (Pirker et al., 2019), monumental environments (Mitchell, 2003), as well as cases of displacement (Erll, 2011), contextualisation of collective memory (Farahani et al., 2015), etc. Some of these examples refer to the matters of historical importance (Bigsby, 2006) or the significant past, which are the essence of how places of memory are developed and remembered.
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More historically White institutions of higher education are compelled to respond, in some way, to increased activism and awareness of continued legacies of racism and racial crises on campuses. The author suggests that how schools wrestle with their legacies of racism and/or respond to student demands to right racial wrongs on campus might be considered university acts of racial redress. Through a Critical Race Theory inspired chronicle, the author argues that seemingly positive university acts of racial redress such as policies, place un/naming, or public statements are, in fact, Racial Symbols that do little to change the material realities of racially marginalized people on campus.
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On 17 June 2015 Dylann Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and sat down for a Bible study. After spending forty-five minutes attending the service, he pulled a Glock 41 .45 caliber handgun from his backpack and opened fire, killing nine people. Roof then fled and was ultimately arrested twenty-four hours later in North Carolina. Of the nine killed the oldest was 87 year old Susie Jackson, and the youngest was 26 year old Tywanza Sanders. After his arrest Roof claimed that he assassinated the members of Emanuel AME Church in the hopes of igniting a broader race war. Indeed, photographs later emerged and went viral of Roof engaged in racist exhibitions and hate speech in the past, in particular the flying of the controversial and insensitive Confederate battle flag. In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, we saw renewed efforts to remove Confederate symbols from across the South’s public spaces, with South Carolina legislators finally voting to remove the flag from the state capitol grounds. In addition, the nation witnessed the grace of survivors in forgiving Roof. These were meaningful and symbolic steps that, thankfully, had the opposite effect than the one the white supremacist shooter had intended. While it is undeniably tragic that nine innocent people had to die before political leaders realized what many African Americans have known and lived with for generations, it is also indicative of a nation that whitewashes the connections between the material realities of white supremacy and its grounding in historical memory. The Confederate flag is a highly charged reminder of legacies of racism that have long been employed by racists to intimidate the black community and to oppose those struggling for racial equality. The banner of the secessionist, pro-slavery southern government had largely faded from memory and sight in the years after the Civil War, but it reappeared not coincidentally after World War II as a symbol of conservative white resistance to what was then the nascent Civil Rights Movement. African Americans who famously protested segregated bussing in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 have vivid memories of being pelted with balloons filled with urine, which were thrown from cars and trucks decorated with Confederate flags. In 1959, in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, school officials in Fairfax, Virginia named and opened a new high school after Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart (Shapiro 2015). Many communities carried out similar not-so-subtle strategies of defending white supremacy under the guise of southern heritage and pride. The landscape has retained major traces of these racist symbols and, as a result of the Charleston Massacre, these symbols are being challenged well beyond the removal of the Confederate flag. As activists and others from across the United States recognize, challenging the legitimacy of publicly displaying Confederate flags and other symbols that legitimize the defense of slavery and white supremacy is certainly the right thing to do. Yet these calls should not be mistaken for a solution to structural inequality. In particular, while state legislators from across the South should be applauded for taking down Confederate symbols, that is not the same thing as addressing the deeply entrenched social and spatial conditions that allow white supremacy to permeate not just the Charleston AME church but wider swaths of American life. This contradictory reality—addressing the symbols of a racist heritage without challenging the foundational histories and geographies of racism—raises questions about the relationship between violence, race and memory (Tyner et al. 2014). These questions are seldom discussed in our post-Charleston Nine social world. Recently, Karen Till has argued that progressive change requires a direct engagement with the trauma of “memory work” in which “individuals and groups may confront and take responsibility for the failures of the democratic state and its violences” (Till 2012, pg. 7). In particular, she highlights the place-based practices of local citizens, activists, educators, artists, and even performers in carrying out the physical, political, and creative work of not only remembering a violent past but re-defining who has a right to the city and how space can be reconstructed through memory to become a site...
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We argue that understanding contemporary geographies of race and militarism is predicated on understandings of settler colonialism and white supremacy. Settler colonialism is a continuously unfolding project of empire that is enabled by and through specific racial configurations that are tied to geographies of white supremacy. In a U.S. context, settler colonialism begins with the removal of first peoples from the land and the creation of racialized and gendered labor systems that make the land productive for the colonizers. In this context, settler colonialism is an enduring structure—an interrelated political, social, and economic process that continuously unfolds—requiring continued reconfigurations and interventions by the state. Such a framing connects landscapes of militarism and geopolitics with everyday forms of violence, social difference, and normalized power hierarchies and relationships of oppression. Building from these insights we argue that theorizations of U.S. militarism must be connected to the spatialities of white supremacy and grounded in the U.S. imperial settler state. Finally, we end by engaging with a broader discussion on the ways in which the discipline and academic institutions are complicit in practices that contribute to white supremacy, poverty, inequality, and the continuation of settler colonial practices. For these reasons it is necessary to cultivate a broadly conceived and militantly uncompromising peace agenda premised on antiviolence and the rejection of the racism (and its intersections with gender, class, and sexuality) implicit in the settler colonial state.
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The hanging of a noose on the University of Mississippi’s statue of civil rights pioneer James Meredith in February 2014 was framed by university administrators as the act of a few deviant white students, but our analysis suggests otherwise. A historical review shows the university’s long-standing resistance to meaningful change and a continuing lack of transparency following racist incidents. Visual analysis shows that the university remains saturated with monuments, place names, and other symbols of racial dominance. Narratives of marginalized people on campus, including some of the authors, reveal the corrosive effects of normalized white supremacy. The authors’ analysis suggests that, instead of an aberration, the noosing aligned the statue with the prevailing symbolic environment. This study builds bridges between sociological analysis and critical race theory and demonstrates the importance of group processes in understanding and responding to racist incidents on campuses.
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This article describes a high-impact learning project that combines geography, history, and ethnic studies. It describes the construction of the course, student outcomes, and the final and publicly presented collaborative project: the Social Justice Tour of Corvallis. Based on work in a small largely white town, this project presents a reproducible model for student learning and actively engaging with questions of race and geography.
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