By Jenna Thomas
A petition to rename Cleveland State University’s law school, started by Hanna Kassis, an attorney and resident of Cleveland, currently has 1,162 signatures. The petition on change.org condemns CSU, the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall College of Law (UIC), and the 18 other elementary and high schools in the U.S. named after the Supreme Court Chief Justice.
Kassis points to John Marshall’s history of racist supreme court rulings as the major motivation for forming the petition.
“As Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall owned slaves, upheld slavery, perpetuated the slave trade, and he denied Native American rights to the land. Yet so many schools are named after him, from elementary schools to a few law schools,” Kassis writes in the petition.
In his position on the Supreme Court, John Marshall overruled lower courts that favored an end to the slave trade and upheld the legality of slaves as property. He also ruled that Native Americans did not have rights to North American land.
This advocacy follows a nationwide trend to eliminate the use of racist history in a celebratory or revered context. Kassis and other signatories reference similar successes at other universities.
“We are not alone in this. U.S. generals are calling on the president to rename military bases named after Confederates; Princeton has removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from the school due to his racist views and policies; the Florida Gators are ending their chant, ‘Gator Bait;’ and there are many other recent examples of society waking up and eliminating our racist history,” Kassis said.
On Sep. 16, Kassis updated the petition to announce that Cleveland-Marshall College Dean, Lee Fisher, agreed to form a committee on renaming the college. The committee’s recommendations should be made public in November. UIC announced plans to form a similar committee to consider or the actions its institution can take to create an anti-racist culture.