UC Berkeley’s glacial effort to rename buildings that honor racists is inexcusable

CAMPUS ISSUES: The building naming task force recommended zero substantive action. More committees is not the answer.

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When UC Berkeley announced in March 2016 that it would embark on a review of more than 150 building names after concerns about Barrows Hall arose, many were hopeful. But more than a year later, the committee tasked with reviewing building names instead simply recommended creating yet another committee.

This bureaucratic standstill is unacceptable. In 2015, Black Student Union member Blake Simons told The Daily Californian that Barrows Hall is a “daily reminder that Black students are not respected on campus.”

Barrows Hall is named after former UC Berkeley president David Barrows, whose white supremacist ideology informed his anthropological work on the Philippines and regions of Africa during the early 1900s. LeConte Hall is named for the first UC Berkeley president John LeConte and his brother Joseph, who manufactured munitions for the Confederate army. Boalt Hall is named after John Boalt, an attorney and judge whose racist beliefs helped drum up support for the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Students shouldn’t have to continue to sit in classrooms housed in buildings that honor men who oppressed their ancestors.

Instead of responding proportionately to the urgency demanded by the situation, the building naming task force concluded in April with a report that recommended zero substantive action. The report advises that the campus adopt guiding principles for future building naming.

Even considering that the task force faced some uncertainty in late spring because of several administrative shakeups — the committee chair, then-vice chancellor of equity and inclusion Na’ilah Nasir, and former chancellor Nicholas Dirks were both on their way out — the campus shouldn’t have let this fall through the cracks. Committee member and doctoral student Rachel Lim said some members of the task force themselves expressed frustration with the way it concluded.

After the race-based hatred and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and here in Berkeley, and as Confederate statues and monuments come down on college campuses and cities across the nation, it is more important than ever that the campus take swift action.

So why hasn’t Barrows been renamed yet? The task force specifically emphasizes that the names should align with campus values and outlines processes in place for renaming buildings.

The campus now says new Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón and Chancellor Carol Christ are considering how and when to make the new committee that will decide on building names. Campus will also consider ways to clarify that its values have changed since the building was first named through an exhibit or mural in the lobby of Barrows. This is not enough. Forming committee after committee is a baffling way to address the immediate problem at hand.

Christ sent a message to the campus yesterday in light of the “rash of violent rallies that hate and bigotry have spawned across” the country, outlining plans to build more platforms for speech that “celebrates diversity, builds unity, and values all identities.”

But these claims are meaningless promises if UC Berkeley continues to prolong a conversation about the hatred built into the very walls of this campus.

 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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  • Nina

    What the students who wrote this editorial don’t realize is that they’ve just drastically undervalued a Berkeley degree. What employer in their right mind would hire somebody who is driven to weak-kneed wailing because of the name of a building? When they can’t pay back their astronomical student debt because they’ve helped their alma mater become a national laughingstock, I wonder if they’ll engage in any mature introspection. I doubt it.

  • Man with Axe

    Don’t these students, and especially the administrators, realize that they are in the throes of a national hysteria? All of a sudden no one can stand to see the name of a centuries-dead slave-owner on a university building? Is it because the students really are so emotionally fragile that their sense of well-being can be overthrown by a statue, or a name on a building? And these are the future leaders of America? God help us if we ever must depend on them to do something that requires courage.

  • Man with Axe

    I recommend that the buildings be renamed after Mumia abu Jamal, O.J. Simpson, Louis Farrakhan, Idi Amin, and Robert Mugabe.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Great. I look forward to the day when every building on campus is named Jesus Hall.

  • FreedomFan

    Democrats elected the biggest racist of all: Barack Obama, disciple of the execrable Jeremiah Wright. Twice.

  • Jack Spencer

    Cultural cleansing has no place at an American University. This is appalling and unacceptable.

  • Killer Marmot

    When we apply modern standards of morality to historic figures, few of them stand up to scrutiny. What we consider right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, has changed, and will continue to change.

    As an example, until only a few ago both Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama held that marriage was only appropriate between a man and a woman. Now many would denounce such an attitude as hateful and bigoted. And this change happened over the course of only a few years, not centuries!

    This means that once we start purging ourselves of “hateful” historical figures, there is no way to stop. None will meet our modern standards. And those figures that replace them might well in their own turn be deemed unacceptable one day.

    Rather than throwing Berkeley’s heritage in the trash can, how about this: let’s accept that all people are flawed. Keep these historical figures as a reminder of that, and as a reminder that our own set of ethics might one day be seen as repugnant, no matter how sure we are of our righteousness.

    • FreedomFan

      Well said.

  • lspanker

    Maybe the Editorial Board should join those guys who blew up all those statues of Buddha in Afghanistan and burned those centuries-old manuscripts in Timbuktu, given that they seem to be kindred spirits…

  • California Defender

    I wonder if the Bubbled Berkeleyites know that their own university is named after a slave owner?

    George Berkeley owned a large plantation in Rhode Island, bought and sold slaves, and frequently preached how Christianity supports slavery and that religious faith makes slaves better slaves. He preached:

    “It would be of advantage to slave masters’ affairs to have slaves who should obey in all things their masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, as fearing God.”

    – George Berkeley, 1729

    Oh no Berkeleyites! You’ll see a slave master’s name on your resume forever!

    • FreedomFan

      LOL!!!

  • dongosney

    So when the names of these buildings are removed (just ask the ancient Egyptians used to do when someone would fall out of favor?), what process do you propose for selecting the new name?

    Should this be by one of those committees that you trashed in one of your later graphs? Or should this fall on one individual or group of people looking to take care of one of their own?

    In city after city here in the Bay Area we’re seeing parks, bridges, buildings, benches, freeways and other edifices being named after contemporaries that were a part of the clique of the ever changing ruling elite.

    How many airports, battleships and aircraft carriers are named after the gods/goddesses of the ruling party? John Wayne Airport? Reagan International Airport? The USS Ronald Reagan? The list goes on.

    My only personal thoughts on these kinds of things is that the person being honored first needs to be long dead so the renaming passes the test of time. And second, when the name is suggested, overwhelmingly the ‘people’ need to slap their foreheads and say in unison “of course–why didn’t I think of that?”

    Of course, not being a current student at Cal–just one of the people who has been paying for this university for the past 50+ years–should I even be allowed to comment? With Cal now the center of the free speech quashing universe, should an alternative viewpoint even be allowed?

    • California Defender

      Perhaps the buildings should be renamed:

      Building 001
      Building 002
      Building 003

      This would match the mindless conformity of thought demanded by the institution.

      • dongosney

        Isn’t that kind of how New York City names their public schools? For example: PS-323?

      • Killer Marmot

        That system of decimal notation was culturally appropriated from India, you oppressive swine.

        • dongosney

          I think he was being facetious and suggesting that what’s being proposed needs some rethinking.

          • Killer Marmot

            I was being doubly facetious.

            You get a “Whoosh!”

      • That is how it is done at MIT, and dare I say, the Farm.

        • Bob Bell

          Some of the MIT buildings are also named after individuals. For example, Building 68 is also the (speaking of politically incorrect) David W. Koch Biology Building (the Koch brothers being loyal and generous alumni).

    • lspanker

      So when the names of these buildings are removed (just ask the ancient Egyptians used to do when someone would fall out of favor?), what process do you propose for selecting the new name?

      Oh, I’m sure there are some bank robbers and cop killers living in exile in Cuba that are at the top of these clown’s list for suitable substitute names… :O|

      • dongosney

        Shouldn’t surprise any of us.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      A suggestion was floated recently to rename Barrows Hall to Assata Shakur Hall.

      Clearly, naming a building after a convicted murderer is better than naming it after a social scientist with outdated opinions.

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