Former Lincoln Lounge

Minnesota State University students hang out in the Centennial Student Union’s Lincoln Lounge. Student leaders are working to rename the lounge after the prominent Indigenous community on campus and in Mankato.

What has been dubbed by faculty, students and staff as the “Lincoln Lounge” at Minnesota State University for years is now in the works to be officially renamed the “Dakota Lounge.”

Student Government President Emma Zellmer and Vice President Idman Ibrahim proposed to formally name Centennial Student Union 108 the Dakota Lounge during the Student Government’s first meeting of the new year.

The space was informally named after the Abraham Lincoln statue that once resided in it. The statue, after being the center of controversy among the Indigenous community on campus for decades, was moved to the second floor of the Memorial Library in the fall of 2021.

For some in the Indigenous community, the statue was a reminder of the man responsible for commanding the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, the largest mass execution in American history, during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

The Lincoln Lounge does the same, and no longer makes sense without the statue, Zellmer said.

She and Ibrahim decided to reach out to Indigenous community leaders and students to discuss it. After speaking with them, Dakota Lounge was the agreed upon name.

The resolution to make it official was unanimously passed by the Student Government and has since been passed by the CSU student board. It will now go through the Buildings and Landmarks Committee for final review and expected approval.

With the university’s commitment to Minnesota State’s Equity 2030 and closing opportunity gaps among students, Ibrahim believes the approval will come rather quickly in comparison to the length of time it took the university to answer to the complaints around the Lincoln statue.

The length of time it took the university to respond, however, was attributed to how heavily debated the significance of having the statue on campus had been for years. Those in support of the statue and Lincoln’s significance as a former U.S. president had pointed out he ended slavery, and while he ordered the execution of Dakota men in Mankato, he reduced the list from 303 to 38.

The statue’s new home in the Memorial Library encourages students to explore such histories tied to Lincoln and to continue the discussion around it all.

As for renaming the lounge, Zellmer argues the university is behind in comparison to other Minnesota State schools that have made efforts to recognize Indigenous communities through the names of buildings.

Bemidji State University, for example, has multiple buildings with Indigenous names in order to better represent its student population.

“We’re just hoping to have more recognition of the Indigenous community here on campus,” Zellmer said. “For all that’s happened in Mankato and their community’s leadership over the years, it’s frustrating that there aren’t really known spaces named on our campus in honor of them. We’re hoping that starting on the first floor of the CSU can really change that.”

If approved, the space will incorporate Indigenous artwork and the historical context around the name.

“We don’t just want to rename it; we want to show why it’s being renamed in the first place,” said Winona Williams, president of the Native American Student Association at MSU. “More things need to be done to represent and support the Indigenous community, but this is a really great first step.”

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