The facility that will house the University of Michigan’s new multicultural center will be named solely for William Monroe Trotter.
President Mark Schlissel made the announcement at the start of the July 21 Board of Regents meeting. The new $10 million facility was approved in December 2015. It will be built along South State Street. The project is proceeding as planned.
The president said that after the April announcement of a $3 million naming gift from Regent Mark Bernstein and his wife, Rachel Bendit, university leaders began to hear concerns from some members of the university community who felt a sense of loss and diminishment with this action.
Given their desire to honor the U-M Trotter House’s legacy, the university and donors mutually agreed to not move forward with the naming gift in order to preserve the William Monroe Trotter name on the new building that will be home to the Trotter Multicultural Center.
“I have deep respect for Mark and Rachel’s efforts to listen carefully to these concerns, and to engage in thoughtful discussions about the issue with community members across campus,” Schlissel said.
Schlissel said Bernstein and Bendit have told him that, in the months ahead, they will continue to explore opportunities to support multiculturalism and that Bernstein “remains fully engaged in the important strategic planning now underway for the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
The president said this experience “reinforces how we must, as a university, do a better job of open and widely inclusive dialogue. As they always have, Mark and Rachel will continue to be strong supporters of Michigan, and have modeled for us the kind of outreach and dialogue we need to foster greater levels of cross-cultural understanding and to achieve our goals as a diverse and inclusive community.”
Following the president’s opening remarks, Bernstein offered comments on behalf of himself and his wife. He said their shared commitment to civil rights and dedication to social justice motivated them to direct their philanthropy to support these types of efforts on the U-M campus.
“In our increasingly divided and divisive society, we feel not just motivated but obligated to stand publicly for a broad and inclusive approach to multiculturalism,” he said.
“That is why we made this gift. It was about enhancing and preserving Trotter while demonstrating for all to see that multiculturalism in general, and race in particular, are not other people’s issues but a shared responsibility. A message that is more urgent and important today than ever before.”
Bernstein said, “It’s been said that ‘what we learn is more important than what we set out to do.’ And this was the case with our gift. What we believed to be a gift, others felt as a loss. Since the gift announcement we spent time with faculty, students, staff and alumni who shared with us their sense of loss and who expressed their fear that the only African-American name on a building at our university would be diminished or erased.
“There are hundreds of buildings on this campus and only one, Trotter, honors the name of an African American. This is wrong … we did not want to silence Trotter — this one, lonely African-American voice on our campus. This was, of course, not our intention, but it could have been the result.”
Schissel added that “for many the building name symbolizes the dedication of generations of Michigan students, faculty and staff who worked to make our campus more diverse and inclusive.”