Jake Steinberg’s lead article in the Minnesota Daily on Thursday, “Task force suggests renaming Coffman,” seems to hit all the right notes. However, it also underscores the underlying problem which is elucidated in "American Dialogue" by Joseph J. Ellis in his chapter on Thomas Jefferson: “We should begin with the realization that our battle against racism, like the war against cancer, is an ongoing struggle that must be conducted without having an end in sight.” If one were to take the renaming argument to its logical conclusion, one would also have to rename the Jefferson Memorial and remove Jefferson’s face from Mount Rushmore. However, Ellis goes on to write, “Attempting to erase Jefferson from our memory will do nothing to change the long and deep history of racism in the United States. Forgetting that history will only deprive us of understanding what we are up against in the ongoing struggle for racial equality, a struggle embedded in over three hundred centuries of racial prejudice.”
So, what’s a country, what’s a University, to do? Steinberg notes that the Task Force on Building Names and Institutional History “… recommends exhibits be installed in each of the buildings, whether they’re renamed or not, documenting the complex history of their namesake.” Ellis has a similar recommendation of installing panels in the Jefferson Memorial to note Jefferson’s complex history concerning human “equality” and his views on race. A good idea, but realistically, who, when they say, “I’ll meet you at Coffman,” is planning to go read the exhibits? No, what stands out is the name — Coffman.
In fear of being too snarky, let me suggest we rename Coffman the "Norman Borlaug Union" to honor the Iowan who is also Minnesota’s Nobel Laureate in order to create a more perfect union between Minnesota and Iowa — or the hatred they hold for one another.
Let's rename Coffey Hall the Amir Coffey Hall, in honor of the University basketball star.
And because we have come to the realization that our most fundamental history is riddled with racism, let’s choose another Nobel Laureate and name Middlebrook or Nicholson Halls the Bob Dylan “the times they are a-changin’” Hall.
This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for clarity and style.