University of Wisconsin-Madison Considers Removing 'Racist' Boulder

Boulder weighs 70 tons

University of Wisconsin campus / Twitter screenshot
November 23, 2020

The University of Wisconsin-Madison may soon remove a 70-ton boulder that student activists claim is a symbol of the school's racist past.

On Nov. 19, the university's Campus Planning Committee voted unanimously to recommend the removal of Chamberlin Rock, named after former university president Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin. The rock became a source of controversy when students found that a 1925 newspaper clipping called the rock a "n****rhead," a common term at the time for large, dark rocks. The university confirmed that the clipping was the only known instance of the term being used on campus.

A university spokeswoman told the Washington Free Beacon that the planning committee's recommendation will be reviewed by Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who has already expressed support for the rock's removal, and the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, black students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began calling for the removal of the rock, claiming that it was a reminder of the school's racist history. The school's Black Student Union kickstarted the campaign.

"We took a stance, and a bold stance to stand up to our university and demand things that have been demanded for so long but have historically fallen on deaf ears," Black Student Union president Nalah McWhorter told the Free Beacon. "When looking at context and what this university was like in 1925, it is very clear that it was a very racist campus."

Student activists across the country have called for the removal of any monument or name with links to slavery or racism, however tenuous those links might be. Tulane University activists convinced the school to remove the "Victory Bell," which was used to celebrate sports wins, after discovering its association with slavery; they also called for "reparations" for students who experienced "emotional damage and trauma" from the bell's presence. Michigan State University said it may rename its James Madison residential college to promote "sustainable" racial change, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas purged its Yosemite Sam-style mascot after activists complained it had "racist roots."

The Wisconsin-Madison committee estimates it will cost between $30,000 and $75,000 to remove the boulder. The university is considering removing it in one of three ways: relocating the rock off campus, burying it at the site of its original location, or breaking it up and disposing of it. Geochronology professor Brad Singer is lobbying to relocate the rock nearby so professors can continue using it for instruction.

UW-Madison's Black Student Union is also working to remove a statue of Abraham Lincoln from campus, due to his "genocide of Native Americans and his close proximity to Ho-Chunk effigy mounds," according to McWhorter.

The university chancellor claims the school has no plans to remove the Lincoln statue.