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UC Berkeley needs to be efficient about confronting problematic building names

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SEPTEMBER 14, 2018

It has been more than 2 ½ years since a committee was first formed at UC Berkeley to review building names that have roots in racist and oppressive histories. So far, not a single name has changed.

People of color at UC Berkeley continue to study, work and teach in halls that honor racist individuals and legacies. The campus administration has time and again claimed to value diversity and inclusion, and bureaucratic red tape excuses are getting old.

Boalt, Barrows, LeConte, Kroeber — these hall names, well-known around campus, commemorate white men who oppressed and discriminated against people of color. John Boalt was instrumental in the passing of one of this country’s earliest racially discriminatory immigration acts. David Barrows was an anthropologist who perpetuated American colonialism. Joseph LeConte owned more than 200 slaves. And Alfred Kroeber was a campus anthropologist who put an indigenous man on living display in a San Francisco museum.

This week, the Committee on the Use of the Boalt Name — formed in September 2017 — made a recommendation that the UC Berkeley School of Law remove Boalt’s name from a wing of the law school building and from the names of student organizations on campus. This is a step in the right direction. But now, the campus needs to move forward with these recommendations — and quickly.

Current UC policy delineates two separate systems for renaming buildings. If the building is named simply to honor an individual, the chancellor of the campus must submit a request to the UC Office of the President to change the building’s name. But if a building was named in connection with a major donation, the university’s general counsel must consult the California attorney general. With the process already so convoluted, the university and campus must respond efficiently to the demands of the community — or do more to streamline this procedure.

Students and faculty have been protesting the names of these halls for years. Why has nearly no action been taken? And why isn’t the process of petitioning name changes more public? Other schools and campuses across the country are taking steps to acknowledge and tear down legacies of racism. A local school, formerly known as LeConte Elementary School, recently changed its name to Sylvia Mendez Elementary School. The UC system should follow the Berkeley school district’s example.

Renaming UC Berkeley buildings is about more than just titles — it’s about acknowledging the campus’s racist legacy. The campus itself is built on indigenous land, a fact that administrators have never publicly acknowledged.

Talk is cheap. UC Berkeley administration, it’s time to live up to the values you pride yourself on.

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

SEPTEMBER 14, 2018