UMSU Condemns University Inaction on Racist Buildings

26 August 2020

CW: eugenics and racism.

On 13 February, University of Melbourne Student Union’s (UMSU) Students’ Council passed a motion titled “Stop celebrating eugenics!”. The motion requested  the University to rename buildings named after eugenicists and acknowledge their racism. The motion “[reaffirmed UMSU’s] stance against racism” and “called upon the University to make some formal acknowledgement of [Richard Berry’s] role in eugenics”. 

“We understand that this is a very distressing issue, especially for First Nations students on campus and at residential colleges…. However, as we have had a previous office bearer successfully change the name of a building, from Richard Berry to Peter Hall, we believe our other UMSU departments and allies on campus can be great advocates for change and fight this issue knowing what it means for us in particular,” said UMSU Indigenous Office Bearers Hope Kuchel and Shanysa McConville.

Said campaign, spearheaded by then Indigenous Office Bearer Tyson Holloway-Clarke and Dr Odette Kelada, happened in 2015 which successfully saw the Richard Berry building  renamed to Peter Hall building. The University released a statement in 2016 regarding the name change but gave no reference to why exactly it had been renamed. Richard Berry was a eugenicist and believed in producing a superior race. 

UMSU President Hannah Buchan indicated that the motion could be the kickstart to a possible new campaign.

“…  a motion [was] passed recently at Students’ Council to initiate a poster campaign to alert students about the name of the John Medley building…We are also going to initiate discussion with the University about this issue.”

Professor Richard James, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Undergraduate), mentioned the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The plan is a document produced by the university to develop an “inclusive and two-way relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians based on mutual responsibility and respect”. The 2018 – 2022 RAP is the third document the University has produced that outlines Signature Projects.

James mentioned that the RAP incorporates a review into the naming of buildings in one of the projects. There is no direct mention of renaming buildings.

“The formal review process is underway with transparency and rigour of both the process and ultimately the University’s history, the aim. This will involve wide consultation, including with University students, staff, alumni and Traditional Owners and Elders,” he said.

“I am aware of the Reconciliation Action Plan, but the University has not been in contact with the Student Union to discuss students’ perspectives,” said Buchan.

Inaction and slow processes of renaming buildings highlights the systematic racism that still impacts the University to this day. 

Buchan states that UMSU condemns the University’s inaction on this issue.

“The University has refused to rename buildings for years, but the MSD building was easily and quickly renamed to the Glyn Davis building when he left the University. This example shows that the University can change names when it wants to, so it needs to take a stand against its racist past. There is no excuse for racism, and the University needs to take serious action on this issue.”

The University’s PR Department was contacted for comment but, Farrago has yet to receive a response.


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