Sunday, October 25, 2020

Michigan State to remove name from building for connections to KKK

September 4, 2020
Michigan State University's Nisbet Human Resources Building on Friday, September 4, 2020.
Michigan State University's Nisbet Human Resources Building on Friday, September 4, 2020. —

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees will be voting to remove former board member Stephen Nisbet’s name from the human resources building, due to his discovered involvement with the Klu Klux Klan.

“We care greatly about the current campus climate at Michigan State University,” MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said. “We want to make sure that our buildings reflect the values of our institution. Because we think again, having a safe and welcoming and inclusive campus is extremely important.”

The board will vote on the action at their Sept. 11 meeting, after the university confirmed Nesbit's involvement with the klan.

The Nisbet Building is located at 1407 S. Harrison Road, on the southern part of campus, and houses the university’s human resources department. 

The resolution will rename the building to 1407 South Harrison for the time being, until a new name is decided. Stanley says they do not yet have names in consideration. 

Attached to the resolution are the documents that outline his membership in the klan, as well as his klan membership card, which was found filed at Central Michigan University’s library.

Feb. 15, 1972, the building was named after former education administrator Nisbet, who served on the MSU Board of Trustees from 1964 to 1971, being part of the first sitting board with eight-year terms, according to the History of the Board of Trustees. Nisbet was also a school principal, a superintendent and president of the Michigan Education Association.

“But it was brought to my attention a number of months ago that he also was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan within Michigan,” Stanley said.

Stanley said the building’s name was brought to his attention three or four months ago, and he brought it to the attention of chairperson of the board, Dianne Byrum. A committee was then formed to investigate Nisbet’s involvement and gather evidence.

“We were referred to a book that was published, ‘Everyday Klan Folk’, which is in our library, which actually mentions Stephen Nisbet as a member of the klan during that time and talks about some of his recruiting activities as well,” Stanley said.

Nisbet was found to be an active member of the Newaygo County chapter of the KKK in the 1920s.

“So given this and of course, given the horrendous actions that the Ku Klux Klan has been associated with, over decades in this country, that horrible, horrendous acts against Blacks, the tremendous acts of discrimination against other minorities as well,” Stanley said. “We don't feel it's appropriate that this name should continue to be this should continue to be the disability.”

Removing the name from the building is one of the steps the university is taking to become a more welcoming community to everyone.

“We want to make sure that we're doing the things that we're talking about in terms of creating a campus that's inclusive, diverse and welcoming to people,” Stanley said. “And I think if you have names of people who have been engaged or involved in organizations that run completely contradictory to that concept, then I think we need to change that. And I think that's what we're trying to say that we are not just talking about giving these things we will do them when presented with them.”

He also said there is a possibility for other buildings across campus to be investigated in the same way. 

“So I think there's always that possibility. And I think we will deal with those things as they come forward,” Stanley said. “We're always going to be willing to listen and understand and I think as a campus these are important discussions to have.”

In July, a letter signed by Interim Dean Linda Racioppi, Assistant Dean Jeff Judge and Director of Diversity Programming and Student Engagement Amber Benton, proposed the name change of MSU’s James Madison College, that was named after President James Madison, who was a slave owner.

Stanley said other name changes will be looked at carefully as they come forward. The removal of Nisbet’s name from the building, however, was clear to him. 

"So there may be things to do a little less clear cut than this, to come forward. This to me was there wasn't much doubt that this was the right thing to do,” Stanley said. “There'll be others that are more complex based on the times in which they lived and the historical context that won't always be so clear cut the terms of what we do. But we will have those discussions and hopefully arrive at a decision is that the campus as a whole as a consensus with.”

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