Social Justice Caught Between a Rock And a Hard Place — Actually It’s Just a Rock

A large boulder was removed from the University of Wisconsin on Friday thanks to the valiant efforts of two student groups who complained that the object represented racism. In the early hours of Friday morning, crews used securing straps to haul the rock away from the top of Observatory hill in the UW-Madison campus located in Madison, Wisconsin. A crane loaded the rock onto a flatbed truck and it was transported elsewhere.

The boulder was placed there and named after the memory of Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a former university president and 19th century geologist. The 42-ton boulder was excavated by the university and placed at the top of Observatory Hill in honor of Chamberlin.

The Wisconsin State Journal explains that the boulder itself represents a “rare, large example” of a particular type of stone from the pre-Cambrian glacial era, and is estimated to be over 2 billion years old. The boulder would have travelled south from Canada and landed near Observatory hill with other debris when the ice melted approximately 12,000 years ago.

But student’s recently identified the rock’s secret racist nature and had it cast out. The ugly ‘truth’ about the rock came about when almost 100 years ago in 1925, an article in the Wisconsin State Journal made reference to the rock and called it by a racial slur, thereby permanently imbuing it with hatred and oppression, even though historians were unable to locate any other instance in which a racial slur was attached to Chamberlin’s rock.

An Indigenous student org named Wunk Sheek worked with the Black Student Union to start a campaign against the rock last summer. Student groups demanded that the school administration remove the “racist” boulder. In January, Chancellor Rebecca Blank of UW-Madison gave approval to relocate Chamberlin’s Rock, but the project still needed the approval of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which was granted last week. The Historical Society had concerns about a Native American burial ground that lies just 15 feet away from where the boulder once stood.

The Historical Society and tribes formally gave support for the rock to be relocated to another piece of university-owned land, and spokesperson Kara O’Keefe highlighted that in their view, the boulder has no “adverse impact on… cultural or historical resources.”

Senior student and campus representative Juliana Bennett said that the boulder’s removal was crucial and added that now that it’s gone BIPOC students can “begin healing.”

She spoke to the Associated Press, telling them that “this moment” was for “students… that relentlessly advocated” to depose the “racist monument.” She added that the time had finally come to “breath a sigh of relief,” as well as feel “proud of our endurance.”

Thomas Crowder Chamberlin will have a new plaque made and placed in a building that already carries his name.

The boulder can now be found near Lake Kegonsa on land that’s owned by the University. The rock will continue to be used for education purposes by the department of geoscience.

Gary Brown, the director of landscape architecture and campus planning said that removing the rock from such a “prominent location” helps keep it from causing “further harm to our community.” When asked, he said that the cost of the removal project was about $50,000.

In June of last year, University of Wisconsin students also demanded that a statue of Abraham Lincoln be torn down. Students claim that the 16th president, best known for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, is an anti-Native American and anti-black figure.

Thankfully, the school rejected demands to remove the statue of Lincoln.

Author: Thomas Bryant