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10th Aug 2021

US university removes boulder seen as symbol of racism

Charlie Herbert

The Chamberlin Rock

A group of students raised concerns after finding an article from 1925 where the boulder was referred to by a racial slur.

Students at the University of Wisconsin requested that a 42-tonne boulder be removed from the campus after discovering an old article that referred to the rock with a racial slur.

University historians have since reviewed the article from 1925 and have found no evidence that the term was ever used in an official capacity by the university. However, they confirmed that the Ku Klux Klan had a presence on the campus at the time.

In a Wisconsin State Journal article the rock was referred to as “n—–head.”

The rock is officially called Chamberlin Rock after a former president of the university and is thought to be billions of years old.

According to the New York Post, it had sat on the site – which eventually became the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus – for at least 12,000 years after being carried south from the arctic by glacial movement.

The boulder was moved on August 6 after the university’s leadership agreed with claims from the Black Student Union that it was part of a “history of discrimination. According to the ABC, the boulder was to be placed on university-owned land southeast of Madison near Lake Kegonsa.

Both University Chancellor Rebecca Blank and the Wisconsin Historical Society signed off on the decision.

As you can imagine, the process of moving such a large hunk of rock was not a simple or cheap one. A crane and a giant flatbed truck were involved. Private donors footed the bill which was estimated at $50,000.

The move has been praised by officials and local residents as a step towards righting past wrongs in the area.

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“Removing the rock as a monument in a prominent location prevents further harm to our community while preserving the rock’s educational research value for our current and future students,” University of Wisconsin director of campus planning and landscape architecture told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Local Madison resident Kenneth Owens added: “It’s not the rock’s fault that it got that terrible and unfortunate nickname.

“But the fact that it’s … being moved shows that the world is getting a little better today.”

Meanwhile, Juliana Bennett, a senior and a campus representative on the Madison City Council said removing the boulder signaled a small step toward a more inclusive campus.

“This moment is about the students, past and present, that relentlessly advocated for the removal of this racist monument,” she said.

“Now is a moment for all of us BIPOC students to breathe a sigh of relief, to be proud of our endurance, and to begin healing.”

Now that the boulder has been removed, Thomas Crowder Chamberlin – the former University of Wisconsin president after whom the boulder was names – will be commemorated with a new plaque in a nearby campus building.