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Why UoM’s building names still prove they have a problem with lack of inclusivity

‘White men’s names dominate not only history but the institutions in which we are taught them, even today.’

The opening of the newly refurbished University of Manchester Students' Union showed a strong significance in being named after Steve Biko: a black South-African activist who voiced frustration over the primarily white leadership in multi-racial organisations, later going on to form the Black Consciousness movement.

It begs the question, for a university that promotes "Knowledge, wisdom, humanity" and professes a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (their 2019 Equality statement is 63 pages long): why don't all the building names on UoM campus reflect this?

Buildings such as the Zochonis Building and John Owens are instead named after figures whose family have left money to the University. Money earned primarily from the textile industry, and reliance upon the exploitation of slave labour.

Other examples such as the Barnes Wallis student hub building, which is named after the inventor of the 'Bouncing bomb': a big achievement in the assault attack on Ruhr dams, but obviously at the cost of a lot of lives. 53 of the lives lost at this attack were the crewmen.

"White men's names dominate not only history but the institutions in which we are taught them, even today."

UoM building names pay homage to Alan Gilbert, Alan Turing, Harold Hankins, Ferranti, Stephen Joseph, Samuel Alexander, William Mansfield Cooper, Martin Harris and Ernest Rutherford. Manchester, as well as other cities like Liverpool, owes a lot of it's history, rise in wealth and prominence indebted to the textile industry. This is not to lessen the works of those inventors or family names.

But it's uncomfortable that for a university that proclaims equality and inclusion, a university whose vice-chancellor is Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, that there is still an overwhelming presence of honouring white, wealthy men. White men's names dominate not only history but the institutions in which we are taught them, even today.

If we don't question the very institutions that are supposed to teach us, so that we come away from our degrees with not just knowledge, but wisdom, integrity, and humanity (as the University of Manchester's motto states), then why can't we dedicate the structures where we learn to the women who gave us this right?

In a city such as Manchester, famous for the Suffragettes, overflowing with diverse history and culture and revolution, we should be celebrating the figures that represent all that is good about Manchester. Yet the spaces where we are educated about all of this are in the hallmarks of white, wealthy men. We need to do better than this.

The University of Manchester were contacted and chose not to comment.