U. Cincinatti scraps former slave holder's name from campus building

Though a slaveholder, Charles McMicken's actions also "led to the establishment" of UC.

The Univeristy of Cincinatti board voted to change the name of the College of Arts and Sciences, which was previously named after a slaveholder.

The University of Cinicinattii board has renamed a campus building named after a slave owner whose actions also “led to the founding” of UC. 

According to UC, Charles McMicken, although a slaveholder in the early 1800s, “provided land to free people of color.” “This is the man whose bequest led to the establishment of the University of Cincinnati,” a brief biography of McMicken on UC’s website states. The News-Record, a UC campus newspaper, reported that McMicken donated about $1 million after his death in the mid-1800s that helped establish UC. 

Nevertheless, the college that McMicken is credited with helping to establish has now scrapped his name from the College of Arts of Sciences, the universities’ largest school, after the student government voted in November 2018 in support of removing McMicken’s name. 

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“It’s one step in a series of several to a finish line of improvement. Truthfully, slave labor, segregation — it’s a part of history, and unfortunately, it is a part of our university’s history, too. But that doesn’t mean that we have to live in that. We can grow from it,” UC Student Government President Sinna Habteselassie told the News-Record at the time. 

Following the student government’s vote in support of stripping McMicken’s name from the College of Arts and Sciences, UC President Neville Pinto established a group tasked with studying the life of McMicken. The group released a report with its recommendations in November, which Pinto then reviewed before making a recommendation to the board. 

”As I reflected on how best to respond to the report, my head nudged my heart for guidance. How do we elevate this decision off the page and into the lives of real people who have invested their hopes and dreams in our campus community?” Pinto wrote in a December message. 

But, Pinto said, what ultimately informed the recommendation to the board was the idea of students and their diplomas. 

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”In short, a UC diploma is a tie that binds all of us together—bridging the distance of time, geography, background, belief, identity, politics and perspective. It symbolizes that UC’s tent is big enough to showcase all of our stories,” Pinto wrote. “So what happens to our Arts and Sciences alumni when that prized possession causes pain or resentment because it memorializes McMicken? Would you want a daily reminder of this on your wall? And how can our future possibly be brighter if members of our Bearcats family feel the need to hide that diploma because of McMicken and his desire to fortify exclusion at our institution?” 

While the College of Arts and Sciences will no longer bear McMicken’s name, other locations on campus named for McMicken will keep their designations while “modifying and contextualizing these structures and spaces with digital displays that more fully and fairly represent the histories associated with McMicken.”

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