New auditorium name at odds with values


Dalin Dohrn

Features editor Sahana Unni argues that while Ken Griffin made a generous contribution to Lab, he shouldn’t be honored in such an ironic way.

Sahana Unni, Features editor

In 1940, Gordon Parks moved to the South Side of Chicago, where he dedicated himself to accurately portraying the African American experience through photographs. He was the first Black photographer to earn a Julius Rosenwald fellowship, and he went on to become the first African American to write and direct a major feature film. 

When George Lucas and Mellody Hobson donated $25 million to the construction of Gordon Parks Arts Hall, they made it clear they chose the name because of the values Gordon Parks embodied: Chicago’s roots, diversity and the power of art.

“It was important to us that the University of Chicago campus have a building named for an African American, given the diverse community in which it sits, and the outstanding contributions to our society by people of color,” Ms. Hobson said in a 2014 article published by UChicago News.

Recently, the assembly hall in Gordon Parks Arts Hall has been named the Griffin Auditorium after Citadel CEO Ken Griffin donated a total of $130 million to different organizations around Chicago, including $30 million to the University of Chicago, prior to his move to Miami.

While Mr. Griffin has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the city of Chicago, naming a part of Gordon Parks Arts Hall after him feels insensitive. Mr. Parks represents important principles, including socio-economic and racial diversity, that Mr. Griffin simply does not. Their experiences and impacts are so vastly different that to connect or compare them in any way is outlandish. 

Mr. Parks was born into poverty but spent his time giving much-needed representation to underprivileged communities. Mr. Griffin, on the other hand, spent $54 million just to defeat Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s graduated income tax proposal, which could have greatly benefited low-income families, rather than shelter the richest in society.

As a Black man in the early 1900s, Mr. Parks faced and overcame vast struggles Mr. Griffin will never begin to understand. Celebrating Mr. Parks is honoring the accomplishments he obtained despite American society being rigged against him. While Mr. Griffin put in significant effort to achieve his power and influence, his contributions to Chicago took far less sacrifice, as he has an estimated net worth of $31 billion.

This is not to say Mr. Griffin hasn’t helped to improve the city. He donated to a lot of valuable charities, including $5 million to Project H.O.O.D., $4.3 million to the Chicago Public Education Fund and $20 million to the Field Museum in the last few months alone. However, his donations to those attempting to undo the very missions of these organizations should not be overlooked.

Many of Mr. Griffin’s abundant donations seem to contradict his own values. While Project H.O.O.D. brings people together to combat violence and hopelessness, Mr. Griffin was also as of June the top donor to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who preaches division and hatred. It was only days ago that Mr. DeSantis shipped Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses to make an inhumane political statement.

Lab’s Mission Statement emphasizes kindness and diversity, and it cannot be confidently said that Mr. Griffin consistently exhibits those values. Donating to beneficial charities does not cancel out the tens of millions he poured into the political campaigns of those who seek to undermine the rights of people of color, women and LGBTQ+ people.

It is reasonable for the Laboratory Schools to recognize Ken Griffin for his generous contribution to the school. However, it is distasteful to do so in an area honoring someone who fought to improve society for those most overlooked.