UC Berkeley students call for renaming of campus buildings tied to Confederacy

Daniel Chang/Staff

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Update 7/9/15: This article has been updated to reflect new information about the signing of the bill removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds.

Amid national debate about efforts to remove the Confederate flag, some are questioning why UC Berkeley has named campus buildings to honor Confederate slave owners and promoters of white supremacy.

Two buildings that have come under criticism are Barrows Hall, named after former UC Berkeley president David Barrows, and LeConte Hall, named after brothers Joseph and John LeConte, who played key roles in manufacturing munitions for the Confederate States Army. John LeConte was the first UC Berkeley president, and Joseph LeConte was a geologist and natural historian.

The criticisms have been brought to attention after the June 17 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, which prompted efforts to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds through a proposal that was passed this week in both chambers of the state legislature and signed into law Thursday.

In March, the campus’s Black Student Union sent Chancellor Nicholas Dirks a list of demands to implement institutional change on campus, one being to change the name of Barrows Hall to Assata Shakur Hall in honor of the black activist.

According to a press release from the BSU, Barrows was an “imperialist by way of anthropology and participated in perpetuating American colonialism,” and his name “directly opposes the mission” of the departments that are housed in the building, such as African American studies and gender and women’s studies.

“It’s a daily reminder that Black students are not respected on campus,” said Blake Simons, a member of the BSU, in an email. “It’s hypocritical of UC Berkeley to name a building after Martin Luther King, and then have buildings named after slave-owning racists and colonizers.”

The campus has a set of principles for naming properties and facilities to honor people who, according to university documents, “have made important contributions to enable the teaching, research and public service mission of the university.”

According to Andrew Szeri, campus vice provost of strategic academic and facilities planning, UC Berkeley’s Space Assignment and Capital Improvements Committee considers requests for naming and makes recommendations to the chancellor.

LeConte Hall, which is home to the physics department on campus, is not the only memorial in Berkeley that honors the LeConte brothers: There is a street and a public elementary school named after them as well.

“With recent events in Charleston and a lot of people paying attention to this issue, I do think this is a timely moment about these symbols of white supremacy or memorials of white supremacy,”said Lyndon Comstock, an amateur Berkeley historian and author of “On Parker Street,” a book detailing the history of the area south of Dwight Way, which is where LeConte Elementary School is located.

For Simons, the buildings on campus named after Barrows and the LeConte brothers are symbols of institutional racism at UC Berkeley, further represented by the lack of black people on campus.

“I was one of 365 undergrad Black men last year, and about half of us are being used for profit on the athletic field,” Simons said.

Szeri was unable to comment on the requests to rename LeConte and Barrows halls and said he had not yet gotten a chance to familiarize himself with the issue.

Contact Sujin Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sujinjshin.

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  • 安德森保罗克文

    I remember during one of the rare occasions around elementary age when I was privileged enough to school in Berkeley (and Oakland) giving a book report or debate presentation (I don’t remember which it was) defending the naming as necessary to ‘support and recognize science.’ It wasn’t true, of course, and I was just making life more difficult and less enjoyable by doing so. I had other opportunities to represent more reputable views. I am happy for that.

  • Containerizer

    Why is it just state schools or confederate monuments?

    Elihu Yale (5 April 1649 – 8 July 1721) was an American merchant, philanthropist and slave trader, President of the East India Company settlement in Fort St. George, at Madras, and a benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut, which in 1718 was renamed Yale College in his honor.

    why is this eastern giant of a university given a pass, They are named for a Slave Trader. YALE NEEDS TO CHANGE THEIR NAME. Any Yaley with a shirt or hoodie is just advertising their white privilege. I urge BLM to take on Yale and their rascist name NOW. It should be top of their agenda. Barrows hall is small change in comparison. Where is BLM at Yale? Liberals and Progressives must make changing the name Yale priority #1.

  • 1776

    Lol anything to do with Guy Frieri is just kids from the Berkeley reddit page trolling. This guy isn’t serious.

  • lspanker

    The title of this article needs to be changed to “SOME Berkeley Students…”. It’s quite tiring to see headlines suggesting that the majority of Cal students share the opinions and attitudes of a handful of hypersensitive fruitcakes.

  • tenjen

    Let’s try this one on for size. In the future, possibly all people will be vegetarians or vegans, having come to terms with the cruelty of exploiting and killing other sentient beings. Shall we then remove the names of all carnivores from buildings and monuments because they were species-ist murderers?

  • John Smith

    The buildings were named to honor former Cal Presidents; presumably for their work *as* presidents and not for their prior dealings.

    That’s a big difference from places in the South, where buildings were named for those *because* of their work for the Confederacy.

    Should we ban mention the Founding Fathers from our culture because they either held slaves or certainly profited from them? George Washington was a slave owner his entire life. Do we rename Washington D.C.? Do we replace his image on our currency?

    It is PC run amok and the problem with that is that it makes progressives look like idiots. We aren’t. At some point, you gotta draw the line and for Cal, that line should be drawn before this renaming.

  • What fruitcakes.

  • Jonathan Pool

    The UCB campus is a bear to navigate. Easy to get lost. Rename all buildings to their coordinates on a grid, so the name will tell people where the building is located. If big donors want buildings named after them, just ask them to rename themselves with the same coordinates.

  • thompson_richard

    The former Vice President (Al Gore) praised Richard Blum as a long-time friend and cited the new institute at UC Berkeley on developing economies “as a key to solving the interlocking problems of global poverty and global climate change, two of the many vexing boogeymen threatening to destabilize the profit-making order.”

  • thompson_richard

    The ongoing purpose of LeConte Memorial Lodge is to inform visitors to Yosemite Valley with the vision of caring about the world that was inspired by the Sierra Club’s early leaders. Just as Joseph LeConte, who died on his last visit to the valley, John Muir, and other early Club leaders who are so closely associated with Yosemite believed, we celebrate the beauty of Yosemite while recognizing that the whole Earth deserves our stewardship.
    A Sierra Nevada wilderness peak is named for David Starr King who “saved California for the Union.” He had a statue in Washington DC but it was replaced by a statue of Ronald Reagan.

  • AnOski

    “imperialist by way of anthropology and participated in perpetuating American colonialism” – describes just about every American prior to the 1960s, and perhaps half of the population still, today.

    Both of the men named in the above article played an integral role in the founding of the University of California, and neither one is widely associated with the Confederate government or what they stood for.
    They’ll only become a symbol of that if people today actively choose for that to happen.

  • Russell Connacher

    I would just say, choose your battles. I admit that based on my birth status I’ve personally never had to experience the struggles of the oppressed. But even as an entitled observer, I think there are much more egregious examples of imperialism and racism than UC Berkeley to battle first. The culture of those who teach and work at UC Berkeley is not represented by the state laws that limit their ability to redress the wrongs of the past and present through education. As it stands right now, UC Berkeley educates more Pell Grant recipients than all of the Ivy League Schools combined, and that’s very important to the struggle between the haves and have-nots.

  • Thomas Haley

    This is a case of presentism. The people that the buildings are named after were considered in their time to be great people, even if they are considered racists today. Historic buildings simply cannot be renamed just as they cannot be destroyed. They are our history and we cannot change history and should not try to make it look different. Keeping only good history will only allow us to repeat our mistakes.

    It doesn’t really make sense to be concerned with changing the names of any buildings. Its a waste of energy. History is history. Changing the history books won’t improve the future. If anything, it’s better to keep the names the same, so that we remember that so many successful people of the past were slave owners, racist, etc.

    A while back, I encountered someone who wondered why so many Google doodles commemorated men. This individual thought Google was sexist. Clearly this person forgot that women cannot be commemorated if there are no women to commemorate. Men probably made so many more accomplishments in the past because of the way women have historically been treated. The point is that we must remember that we cannot frame history in terms of modern values, otherwise conradictions result.

  • Garrett

    Berkeley is an amazing university, but the level of political correctness can be a little frightening sometimes. Should we change the name of the college and town since George Berkeley owned slaves? Should we stop teaching about the first American presidents for the same reason? Barrows and LeConte were not Confederate generals, though they supported the revolution. Assata Shakur is a convicted murderer. How is that an upgrade?

  • Might as well rename the whole university because it’s named after an imperialistic quote by George Berkeley and the word ‘California’ comes from a racist misogynistic islamophobic legend that fetishizes native women.

  • lspanker

    Once again, those who feel the need to be victims look for yet another excuse to be outraged…

  • Diana Lozano

    DO IT NOW Change them!! I’d rather go to class in hall named for someone truly noble. Class of ’14.

    • Dan Spitzer

      When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, there was a member of the local Mafia who was always getting into trouble with the law. His last name was “Lozano” and ultimately, he was put into the pokey for life after knifing a fellow member of the mob.

      Given this, Ms. Lozano, would you consider changing your name to something more “noble?”

  • 1776

    “I was one of 365 undergrad black men last year, and about half of us
    are being used for profit on the athletic field,” Simons said.

    Please, football players get free education, free room, free books, and waived fees. For in state athletes that almost 50k a year and for out of state athletes almost 100k. If you don’t like it, then just quite the team and take out student loans like the rest of us.

    • Dan Spitzer

      Right, I’d hate to imagine what Simons would be doing were he not gifted with a scholarship to PLAY athletics at Cal. Clearly, he is not benefiting from the free education his has been awarded…

    • lspanker

      If you don’t like it, then just quite the team and take out student loans like the rest of us.

      Thank you. It’s laughable to see how some of the most privileged creatures on college campuses act as if they are bearing some great burden put upon them by the rest of us.

  • I’m from the class of 85.. History teaches us a lesson. You can’t change it. Nor should you. It does not end racism.

  • Luciano Mezzetta

    I graduated from Berkeley 1967. You want to have NO association with American slave guilt? Leave the country. As some of my former citizens used to tell me: “Love it or leave it.” I left it. You will be VERY hard pressed to find any American university that does not have blood money in its endowments, much less names of racists on buildings.

  • Emily Montan

    I graduated from the University of Maryland and I am willing to bet my bottom dollar (which ain’t much) that a great percentage of those buildings were named after pro-confederate racist people. Unfortunately, they or their descendents pay to have those buildings built and named after them. I really dislike that campus students, staff and faculty have to see these names on a daily basis. However, I work with Capital Programs at UC Office of the President, and I know many of those buildings can’t be renamed on UMD and UBC because of the original funding.

    This is why when anyone receives a generous financial gift, s/he should find the source and make a decision as to whether it is morally acceptable donation. I’m sure, at the time of those donations, that everything seemed fine. Attitudes and morality change over time. So now everything is NOT fine. I would like to see all buildings that are named after people who have been shown to be suspect, have their names changed. The sad thing is, based on how they were funded, the names won’t be changed. So let’s keep trying the change the system.