Trotter Multicultural Center

July 21, 2016

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 today’s 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.

University Record: New campus building will retain Trotter name

U-M President Mark Schlissel on Trotter Multicultural Center

I now wish to address an important issue that has been brought forward by members of our community. We have been engaged in candid discussions with students, faculty, staff and alumni over the past few weeks.

In April, we announced a generous gift from Regent Mark Bernstein and his wife Rachel Bendit. They are passionate about multiculturalism and social justice, and wanted to support our efforts with a gift to help build the new facility on State Street that will house our Trotter Multicultural Center.

We were happy to accept the gift and recognize it by promising to name the building Bernstein-Bendit Hall. This is a standard convention with philanthropic gifts of this generosity.

Subsequently, though, we began to hear concerns from some members of our community who felt a sense of loss and diminishment with this action. The original Trotter House, named after William Monroe Trotter, is the only building on Michigan’s campus named for an African American, and 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.

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. Given their desire to honor the U-M Trotter House’s legacy, they told me yesterday they are withdrawing their naming gift in order to preserve the William Monroe Trotter name on the new building that will be home of the Trotter Multicultural Center.

They’ve told me that in the months ahead they’ll continue to explore opportunities to support multiculturalism and of course Regent Bernstein remains fully engaged in the important strategic planning now underway for the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

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.

Regent Mark Bernstein on Trotter Multicultural Center

I want to address, on behalf of my wife, Rachel Bendit, and myself, our decision regarding our intended gift to the University related to Bernstein-Bendit Hall and the Trotter Multicultural Center.

Rachel and I have long seen ourselves as part of the multicultural fabric of our country and this university community. Our experience in America, our commitment to civil rights and our dedication to social justice motivated us to direct our philanthropy to support these efforts here on our beloved 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.

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.

We know and appreciate that this is a complicated and challenging moment.

Once the applause for our gift announcement quieted, we heard something else – voices on this campus that expressed deep, heartfelt concern about what was happening.

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.

When Leon Howard, a program manager in the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said that the names on buildings on our campus speak to our students, we heard him and we agreed.

There are hundreds of buildings on this campus and only one – one – Trotter, honors the name of an African American. This is wrong. In Leon’s words, 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.

Rachel and I agree with the university that our gift be withdrawn.

We will continue to explore alternative approaches for playing a role that advances our shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion on this campus and beyond.