David Prescott Barrows, former president of the University of California, is a colonizer. We are not invoking Berkeley buzz words like “decolonization,” “hegemony” or the infamous “white supremacy” merely to raise eyebrows. When we say that Barrows Hall is named after a colonizer, we mean it. David Prescott Barrows described Pilipinxs as “savages” and implemented a system of colonial education meant to “civilize” and reform “the vicious system of teaching current in Filipino schools.” In short, Barrows believed that American colonial education was far superior and was better than the existing education system in the Philippines. Barrows, however, was holding Pilipinxs to a Western standard that invalidates not only Pilipinx culture but also many other cultures and systems of living. Installing a new form of colonial education disrupted an existing writing system, baybayin, that indigenous Pilipinxs created even before Spanish, Japanese, and American colonization. Similarly, Barrows referred to Black people in the Philippines as “much more barbarous and wild than” Pilipinxs, saying that we lived like “wild beasts.”
As Black and Pilipinx students at UC Berkeley, we have to ask: “What’s wrong with being Black and Brown?”
UC Berkeley is often mischaracterized as a bastion of liberal fantasy, otherwise known as the “Berkeley Bubble.” It is true that UC Berkeley is home to one of the first ethnic studies departments — thanks to the third world Liberation Front — the home of the Free Speech Movement and a key player in divestment from South African apartheid. But, as we see with the upcoming defunding of the ethnic studies departments at San Francisco State University, when students of color do not constantly defend what those before us fought to win, our spoils of war are threatened. In the spirit of our predecessors, we created the #RenameBarrowsHall art piece as a politically symbolic act of protest.
Barrows Hall houses the ethnic studies department here at UC Berkeley as well as the gender and women’s studies department, yet it is named after a colonial champion. When we first discussed creating the piece, we took time to think of who would best represent the mission of decolonizing Barrows Hall. We questioned whether we should include other revolutionaries of color, ultimately deciding to create an art piece that captured the hxstory of struggle of both of our communities: Black and Pilipinx. We wanted to start a conversation and paint a vision that left space for other people of color to contribute their narratives, to respond to the erasure of hxstory in a university never meant for us.
The campus Black Student Union, or BSU, made it clear with its spring 2015 demands that the hostile campus climate required both material and political changes, such as a Black resource center and Black psychologists. But attending African American studies courses in a building that glorifies a verifiable colonizer is unacceptable given Barrows’ violent involvement in the Philippines and regions of Africa. The BSU demanded that Barrows Hall be renamed after Assata Shakur, a woman who exemplifies resistance to state-sanctioned violence and who more closely represents the mission of the departments housed in Barrows Hall.
In the months following the BSU’s demands, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines — a military funded by U.S. tax dollars — murdered three indigenous Lumad leaders who established an alternative education for their people in the Philippines after the government deprived them of any form of education. In response, the Pilipinx community at UC Berkeley proposed renaming the building after the Pilipinx revolutionary Garbriela Silang. Ultimately, whether the building is renamed after Silang or Shakur, it is clear that both of our communities, as well as many others, have a stake in this fight.
Renaming Barrows Hall and installing a mural to honor the revolutionaries who fought for our agency is not asking for a lot. UC Santa Barbara recently unveiled a mural commemorating the Black Student Takeover of 1968 in the North Hall. UC Berkeley will soon have a mural in Wurster Hall to honor Latinx/Xicanx hxstory. Last year there was a conversation about renaming campus buildings tied to Confederacy, including LeConte Hall. Additionally, Kroeber Hall is named after Alfred Louis Kroeber, a man who claimed that the Verona band of the Ohlone people were extinct, blocking Federal recognition of a Native American population with untruths.
Renaming buildings and creating a mural does not erase the violent hxstory of the crimes these men committed or the complicity of a university never made for students of color. But we think of the collective euphoria — or racist disgust — when Bree Newsome took down the Confederate flag in North Carolina. We think of the celebration that ensued in South Africa when #RhodesMustFall became #RhodesHasFallen.
We think on these moments and ask again: “What’s wrong with being Black and Brown?”
A previous version of this op-ed omitted Anthony Williams’ name from the byline.