Campus Reform | UW-Madison moves forward with removal of boulder that symbolizes 'anti-blackness’

UW-Madison moves forward with removal of boulder that symbolizes 'anti-blackness’

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Campus Planning Committee is moving forward with the removal of the supposedly Chamberlin Rock on Observatory Hill based on racial concerns.

The Wisconsin Black Student Union continues to spear-head the removal as they describe the rock as “disrespectful”.

The removal of the Chamberlin Rock will cost the University of Wisconsin-Madison an estimated $30,000 to $75,000.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will move forward with the removal of the Chamberlin Rock, a 70-ton boulder once viewed as a historic landmark that the school’s Black Student Union has now labeled a “symbol of anti-blackness.” 

The Campus Planning Committee unanimously voted to recommend to Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the boulder be removed.

“We are very proud of the vote that the CPC [Campus Planning Comittee] gave us on the 12th,” Wisconsin Black Student Union President Nalah McWhorter told Campus Reform. “It is exciting to see history being made and Black voices being centered in that process. Now is time more than ever to prioritize and uplift Black voices and for Universities to show that they are listening to their Black students.”

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The Wisconsin Black Student Union originally brought attention to the Chamberlin Rock over the summer because the vulgar term, “n**gerhead”, was once used to describe the rock in 1925. According to the Wisconsin Black Student Union, minority students feel the rock reminds them of the injustices they face every day.

The group listed several reasons for calling for the boulder’s removal on its Facebook page. One reason listed cites that “students have often recalled having to find and take a picture with Chamberlin Rock for scavenger hunt assignments in geology classes, including Black students."

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However, others, like UW-Madison Geoscience Professor Brad Singer, view the Chamberlin Rock as an educational tool consisting of rich geological history. 

In the last UW-Madison Campus Planning Committee meeting, The Capital Times recorded Singer saying that the rock had “immense” value and “is iconic for understanding the glaciation of Wisconsin, which Chamberlain made famous throughout the world.” 

 

The rock was excavated from and has resided on Observatory Hill since 1925. The Chamberlin rock was named after UW President Thomas Chamberlin who was a well-known geologist.

 

In a recent meeting, the Campus Planning Committee estimated the removal would cost between $30,000 to $75,000 based on several removal options. These removal options include relocating it off campus, burying the boulder on-site at its original location, and disposing of the rock. However, before doing anything to the rock, the university must first obtain permission from the Wisconsin Historical Society for removal as the rock is located near an effigy mound. Once the removal is approved, an experienced archeologist must be present on-site to observe the process.

When asked about the cost of removal, McWhorter said, “We have not considered the cost of removal” and because she thinks the WBSU has done most of the work thus far, “the absolute least the University could do is handle the costs.” In addition, she stated, “I believe there is no price tag on humanizing and giving Black students a voice, when loads of  money are spent at this university daily for a lot more frivolous and less important things.”

 

As efforts to remove the rock proceed, the Wisconsin Black Student Union told the Campus Planning Committee it will consider “what does justice look like?” and “what do the next steps contribute to history?” 

McWhorter suggested that students of color should reclaim the space like installing a piece of art. In addition, the Wisconsin Black Student Union also noted they plan to engage in conversations with all parties involved, including the Department of Geoscience. 

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A virtual meeting has been scheduled with the Black Student Union and the Black Cultural Center for a conversation and decision regarding the removal of Chamberlin Rock. 

 

This is just the most recent attempt by the Wisconsin Black Student Union to remove a landmark from campus. Earlier this summer, the group tried to remove an Abraham Lincoln Statue, but were unsuccessful.