‘Histories of racism, colonialism and exclusion’: UC Berkeley considers changing controversial building names

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Xiaoye Yan/Staff

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In light of concerns about controversial UC Berkeley building names, the Building Name Review Committee was created by a recommendation from Chancellor Carol Christ to begin a process that would allow campus members to propose changing the names of some campus buildings.

Some of the buildings that have been called into question include Barrows Hall, LeConte Hall and Boalt Hall, according to campus junior Rizza Estacio, an ethnic studies and English major who sits as one of the appointed undergraduate students on the Building Name Review Committee. Estacio said these buildings’ namesakes are each tied to “different histories of racism, colonialism and exclusion.”

Estacio said Barrows Hall was named after David Barrows, an American educator who wrote about colonialism. LeConte Hall was named after Joseph LeConte, a scientist who owned slaves, according to Estacio. She added that Boalt Hall was named for John Henry Boalt, a Chinese exclusionary.

“We as a university tend to preach a lot about how proud we are of our diversity and inclusion, but we have buildings that are monuments to figures who upheld racism,” Estacio said.

Campus spokesperson Michael Dirda said the task force and committee have been set up to ensure that there is ample community input and a strong process in place for reconsidering the names of campus buildings

The Building Naming Project Task Force, composed of students and faculty, met for the first time in fall 2016. It published a report in April 2017 recommending that the campus “promptly begin the process of revising the UC Berkeley Principles for Naming.”

Christ later recommended that a building name review committee be established in order to facilitate discussion about which building names should be changed, according to Dirda.

Building Name Review Committee co-chair and campus professor Jeffrey Perloff said information on how to propose the removal of a building name will be made available on the chancellor’s website.

In order to make a proposal, people must explain why they “believe that the legacy of the namesake is fundamentally at odds with the principles guiding the University,” according to the building name removal proposal.

Once proposals are submitted, the committee will discuss them and send recommendations to the chancellor, who will review them and then send them to the University of California Office of the President, according to Perloff. Fine added that proposals for removing the names of buildings that have been named for philanthropic purposes will be sent to the California attorney general.

According to Building Name Review Committee co-chair and campus professor Paul Fine, in its entire history, no UC building has ever been renamed.

Estacio said putting the ethnic studies department in Barrows Hall is a “spit in the face.”

“I’m an ethnic studies major,” Estacio said. “We study decolonization. My major’s home is Barrows (Hall) — it’s so ironic. It’s important to institute that Berkeley has a racist history. So many people that we revere have been tied to racist activities. Addressing and removing those histories is so important — being accountable and actively making steps to remove those histories.”

Contact Ella Colbert at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.