Campus administrators are making a strong move toward equity and justice by reviewing all building names at UC Berkeley. On a campus where a white supremacist’s name adorns the building that houses the ethnic studies, African American studies and gender and women’s studies departments, this move is long overdue.
And though campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof emphasized that this review does not guarantee that any building names will change, it would certainly be disappointing if this investigation did not result in a new name for Barrows Hall.
The colonialist notions that David Prescott Barrows professed during his life are a far cry from the ideas and perspectives that the UC Berkeley campus community tries to espouse: equality, free speech and open-mindedness. Students on campus work incredibly hard to foster an inclusive and accepting environment, and administrators could prove their own commitment to this goal by changing the name.
UC Berkeley is not the only place where similar conversations are happening. Last fall, Princeton University pledged to reconsider using Woodrow Wilson’s name for their public and international affairs school, citing the fact that he actively resegregated the government. Just a few months ago, a movement began (and we supported it) to rename LeConte Elementary School in Berkeley, because of the fact that Joseph LeConte owned slaves and sold munitions to the Confederate army.
Throughout the nation, conversations surrounding the character of historical figures are increasingly common and, as traditionally marginalized voices continue to rise up and be heard, the names of their oppressors are being stripped from buildings and monuments.
There are always factions who argue that historical figures must only be judged within the context of their time, as if the fact that David Prescott Barrows had the support of most contemporary intellectuals and politicians means that he is blameless. But even within his time, the large majority of Filipinos reviled him for his attempts to erase their culture and traditions. What does it say to students on this campus if a monument to the holder of those odious beliefs sits on what is supposedly one of the most liberal campuses in the country?
Though many of the people whose names are on buildings greatly improved the intellectual and financial well-being of the university, in the grand scheme of things, the history of UC Berkeley is replete with influential people of all ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. With so many accomplishments going unrecognized, it seems silly to keep one person’s name on a building forever, instead of seeking to honor as many people as possible, even if for only a limited time.