Profs: Offensive monuments, names cause ‘psychological harm’

Three University of Tennessee professors say colleges should rename controversial monuments because of the “psychological harm” they cause to minority students.

In a recent academic paper, professors Jordan Brasher, Derek Alderman, and Joshua Inwood call for the development of a “responsible landscape policy” to help colleges assess monuments, statues, buildings, and dorms named after racist historical figures.

Campus buildings named after such figures, they argue, contribute to the tradition of “valorizing public figures with reputations for defending and perpetuating slavery, white supremacy, racial segregation, and disenfranchisement.”

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“These commemorated individuals can serve as a ‘hidden curriculum’ that gives sometimes subtle, but often times overt clues about who belongs and whose histories are important to the development of the university and its identity,” they argue.

To change this, the professors call for “landscape interventions” to rename the monuments and promote a sense of “belonging” for minority students, and so establish a “more just landscape of racial identity and belonging.”

They even have a suggestion for how to go about replacing problematic names, suggesting that colleges "can carefully select surrogate names that are not benignly colorblind but instead actively remember and honor the lives of people of color."

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Jordan Brasher, the lead author of the paper, encouraged college administrators  to implement what he and his colleagues call “landscape impact assessments” to determine the scope of racially offensive monuments on campus and consider renaming them.  

The purpose of such an assessment, he told Campus Reform, would be to “stop the production of discriminatory public spaces,” which could “mitigate the psychological harm that discriminatory public spaces impose on African Americans and their sense of belonging.”

[RELATED: UNC students threaten federal lawsuit over Confederate statue]

In addition to assessing the names of campus buildings, Brasher told Campus Reform that there are other ways for schools to handle the issue, such as conducting teach-ins on the “commemoration of white supremacists on campus.”

Professors “can draw on critical place name studies to highlight the socially constructed nature of the memorial landscape” and “engage the public with conversations” on the issue, he added.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen