On the Fourth of July, the people of Baltimore toppled a Christopher Columbus statue, tossing it into the Inner Harbor with a triumphant splash. To that, we say good riddance and congratulations to Columbus for discovering the bottom of the Harbor!
Upon review of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s involvement in this new age Civil Rights movement, we have seen that, while UMBC has generally been quick to make changes to our campus life when it comes to racism and hate speech, a UMBC-managed building in the heart of the Inner Harbor shares the name of a racist, xenophobic figure. It’s called the Columbus Center.
The Columbus Center holds the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, a research facility that is “managed and operated by UMBC,” according to their website. Towson University’s Center for STEM Excellence, which teaches science education, is also located in the Columbus Center.
The Center champions exploration and collaboration. However, it is antiquated and ridiculous to state that any of Christopher Columbus’ heinous acts of violence, rape and human trafficking of indigenous people and Black people align with UMBC’s mission of innovation.
Though it is not on UMBC’s main campus, the prominence of the building on the Baltimore skyline is a blemish on UMBC’s equity-focused vision, which aims to “advance knowledge, economic prosperity, and social justice by welcoming and inspiring inquisitive minds from all backgrounds.” So, we wonder: Why hasn’t UMBC realized the implications of the name of this massive building before now?
There are plenty of incredible researchers or scientists that UMBC could choose as a replacement. We suggest choosing a name from one of the many distinguished and successful researchers who have graced the UMBC community.
Another option is Senator Barbara Mikulski, who was instrumental in gaining the funding for the building. Or perhaps Valerie Thomas, the retired associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office at NASA who has served as an associate at the UMBC Center for Multicore Hybrid Productivity Research, earned countless awards for her excellence and graduated from Morgan State University, an HBCU in Baltimore.
Those are simply suggestions, but opening up the discussion to students of the University System of Maryland is crucial. Whether discourse or competition is in order, that is up to the USM.
On IMET’s website, there is a letter asking people to share ideas so that “IMET can be more engaged and effective on social justice issues in the coming months and years.” UMBC has a note on their website homepage stating “To our Black students, faculty, and staff, We see you. Your life matters. We’re taking action.”
If UMBC truly considers itself an ally to the Black community and to indigenous people, then it is necessary to rename a building that commemorates the deplorable actions of a slave trader — otherwise, their words become a hollow, inconsistent statement that fails to actually create change.
We look forward to seeing definitive action from UMBC. By reflecting on the people we give monuments to, the changes that we make will only make our university stronger and our mission statement more meaningful.
Edit: The Columbus Center is managed and operated by UMBC, not owned by UMBC.