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All Over The Map: History of ‘Racism and Resistance’ on UW campus

An online campus map called "Peoples' Landscape: Racism and Resistance at UW" was created by a group of grad students. (UW)

A group of graduate students from multiple departments at the University of Washington (UW) has created an online map highlighting the history of what they’re calling “Racism and Resistance” on campus.

The map, which works on laptops or smartphones, is called “A Peoples’ Landscape: Racism and Resistance at UW.”

One of the grad students who put it together is Oya Aktas. She told KIRO Radio that the inspiration for creating the map came from a group of undergrads who wanted a graphic way to learn about the more challenging aspects of history on UW’s campus. This includes the backstories of controversial statues, or the details about locations where racist exhibits were sited during Seattle’s first world’s fair – the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition – that was held there in 1909.

Aktas, who’s working on her PhD in history, says that an inventory of these challenging things ended up being only part of what the map ultimately included.

“As we started working on it, we realized that not only were there racist figures, but even more importantly, there was a long history of students becoming really engaged and advocating for change and creating a campus that was more representative of them and more welcoming to students like them,” Aktas said by phone earlier this week.

Thus, the map features a mixture of things, which means that along with the George Washington statue that’s been something of a lightning rod, and Stevens Way – which is named for controversial territorial governor and Native American treaty negotiator Isaac Stevens, the “Racism and Resistance” map also highlights Gerberding Hall, where the Black Student Union occupied of the president’s office on May 20, 1968 and secured support for students of color; and Red Square, where numerous protests have taken place in support of civil rights or against American involvement in overseas conflicts (as well as a notorious shooting a few years ago).

Also included on the map are some lower-profile places and things that met the team’s criteria, such as the original location of the D Center, which is a gathering place for disabled and deaf students that first opened in Mary Gates Hall in 2013; and a fairly traditional looking monument, dedicated a little more than 20 years ago, commemorating the handful of UW students who fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

While the map adds a fascinating layer of interpretation and information that might surprise even people who think they know campus pretty well, some of the language used in descriptions of locations could strike casual map users as less than objective in tone and tenor. For instance, a building called Anderson Hall is described as a “gift to UW by Agnes Anderson, whose husband Alfred H. Anderson profited off Coast Salish Land through the violent extraction of lumber throughout Washington.”

Oya Aktas acknowledges that the “Racism and Resistance” map has a point of view.

“There’s definitely a narrative that this map is telling,” Aktas said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s agnostic necessarily, but it’s also not itself trying to advocate for a specific change. It’s more trying to be a resource for students to be able to advocate for the change that they want to see.”

Like many institutions, the University of Washington is grappling with calls to remove or reinterpret long-standing monuments and to reconsider names of buildings and other campus locations. In minutes from the September 20, 2020 UW Board of Regents meeting, UW President Ana Mari Cauce is reported saying “There is work underway … to contextualize monuments to George Washington and others on campus.”

And as this work moves forward, Oya Aktas sees potential for her group’s map to contribute to the dialogue.

“This map isn’t necessarily calling for specific changes,” Aktas said. “But rather, it’s meant to be a tool for people to imagine different possibilities and then take that momentum and tell the [UW] administration what they want to see.”

“We want undergraduate students, specifically Black and Indigenous undergraduate students, undergraduate students of color, to be able to look at this map and imagine what they want campus to look like,” Aktas said.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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