A day after UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky announced he is recommending to campus administration changing the name of Boalt Hall, campus law students expressed both support and doubt over the efficacy of the decision.
Many students shared the sentiment that the move was a positive change if it induced a more inclusive environment.
“I don’t think a symbol like (Boalt) should represent an institution like Berkeley Law,” said Berkeley School of Law third-year Sadat Tabatabai.
The building’s namesake, John Boalt, is infamous for his anti-Chinese rhetoric and racist remarks against Black people and Native Americans.
The announcement comes after the Committee on the Use of the Boalt Name issued a report in September recommending that such steps be taken and after Chemerinsky reportedly changed his mind “several times.”
Other students doubted the impact of the name change. According to Alejandro Gonzalez, in his home country of Colombia, Boalt is a recognizable brand, and he is unsure how the name change will affect this.
Meanwhile, campus law student Eleazar Saldivia noted discrepancies with the treatment of monuments to figures with histories of owning slaves such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Chemerinsky addressed some of these arguments in his announcement, contending that some historical figures owned slaves or said racist things but still have “good reasons” to be honored “notwithstanding their racist statements and actions.”
According to Chemerinsky, the official name of the law school has never been “Boalt,” and the Berkeley name was intentionally used because of its international reputation.
Another Berkeley Law student, Pablo Kusulas, said he believes it is more important for the campus community to look to the future.
“A cool thing about Berkeley is that we’re very inclusive and we don’t discriminate over anything, but I think here we’re being oversensitive,” Kusulas said. “I think it’s pointless to change the past. We need to look to the future to avoid this happening again.”
Charles Cannon, a Berkeley Law administrator and chair of the Committee on the Use of the Boalt Name, said the committee met for nine months and had “literally thousands” of conversations as they attempted to sort out any confusion regarding the use of the name.
Cannon said the committee ultimately decided unanimously to recommend changing the name because of John Boalt’s lack of social contribution to “offset” his racist actions.
“A school of this stature shouldn’t bear (Boalt’s) name,” Cannon said.
According to Chemerinsky, the recommendation will be considered by the campus Building Name Review Committee and will then require approval by Chancellor Carol Christ and eventually UC President Janet Napolitano.
“In the end,” Chemerinsky concluded in his announcement, “I am reassured that we are all united in our desire to make this one of the finest law schools in the world.”