In 2019, the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees unanimously voted that the name of late slaveowner Charles McMicken be removed from its affiliation with the College of Arts and Sciences—the academic unit itself—whenever formally or informally referring to the college. At the same time, the board recommended to maintain the names of physical spaces that make use of the surname—McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons, and the “Mick and Mack” statues and restaurant—while contextualizing those structures with digital displays.
In a December 2019 news release, UC wrote that “McMicken’s role as a philanthropist cannot be denied. Maintaining his name in conjunction with physical, geographical features [building and landscape] is fitting to the form of his original bequest. That bequest was not one of money but of numerous real estate properties, including buildings and land.”
No amount of philanthropy supersedes McMicken’s role in perpetuating our nation’s greatest shame.
The decision to honor the legacy of a slave owner and trader who bequeathed real and personal estate to the city of Cincinnati for the purpose of building two colleges “for the education of white boys and white girls,” proves that next, in fact, does not live here, as the university continually purports.
To President Pinto, the Board of Trustees and university officials, how can the university pride itself on being empowered by people, perspectives and diverse ideas when you continue to allow our campus to house symbols of abhorrent racism and abuse?
How can inclusive excellence thrive in the halls that denote ostracization and intolerance?
The university has a duty to uphold a sense of accountability while encouraging cultural competence, and keeping the McMicken surname on physical structures is a testament to the greed and performative politics that fuel this institution.
The arguments that “donors, especially the most generous and loyal ones, will be very upset were the name to be removed,” and “the university will suffer great financial losses,” are among the anonymous feedback received by the McMicken working group that was organized in 2018 by President Pinto.
For a university that claims to value diversity, inclusion and equity, it is especially incongruous to maintain the McMicken surname for the sake of appealing to donors and aiming to please those unaffected by the implications of such a decision.
A name might seem minuscule in nature, but for students of color at UC, McMicken Hall, McMicken Circle, McMicken Commons and the “Mick and Mack” statues and restaurant serve as persistent reminders that this campus was never intended for them. While McMicken’s will never explicitly excluded a group of people, there are clear segregationist and discriminatory intentions.
It is true that the scope of acceptability is a moving target that changes with the times, but that does not invalidate nor excuse McMicken’s actions in condoning, participating in, and propagating the institution of chattel slavery, whose effects are still being felt today.
Supporting the removal of McMicken’s surname from physical structures is not synonymous with advocating for censorship or the erasure of history. Rather, it is a step toward cultivating a campus culture of social responsibility in which we can unequivocally declare that next lives here.