Support student body by reviewing all controversial building names

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Our diverse student population calls for a review of problematic building names

Illustration of person looking at Leconte hall
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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What’s in a name? It turns out, there is a lot.

Campus officials removed John Boalt’s name from the UC Berkeley School of Law after years of organizing and deliberation. While this pivotal decision alleviates a bigger issue, campus must begin taking steps to research the potential removal of other controversial building names that honor those with checkered pasts.

As a campus that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, UC Berkeley should continue acting on its commitment to fostering an environment that uplifts students of color. Buildings should not be named after historical figures whose legacies included spreading hatred toward a significant percentage of our community. There is no place on our campus for individuals who did not respect all groups of people — these people especially do not deserve a place on the side of one of our buildings, to be seen by thousands of students of color every day. 

With that being said, LeConte Hall should be next on the list of controversial names that campus needs to look into removing. Campus simply does not have space for prominent white supremacists. Despite Joseph LeConte’s vast scientific contributions, he was a staunch supporter of slavery and supported the Confederacy. In fact, LeConte Elementary School set a local precedent by changing its name after discovering LeConte’s noxious views. Once the Berkeley Unified School District realized the name’s detrimental effects on students of color, it worked to change it and celebrate the diversity of its campus.

Of course, the process for changing names for public grade schools is different from the process of changing names for a state school, such as UC Berkeley, but campus officials should still search for ways to try changing the name. In order for buildings with multiple departments, such as LeConte Hall and Barrows Hall, to undergo a name change, every department housed in the building must give approval for a name change. This can definitely be tedious, but what is the alternative? Although it is an arduous process to remove building names, campus must send the message that it values the diversity and differing perspectives that shape its academic environment.

While removing names is a whole process, finding replacement names is another process that should be glanced at. With UC Berkeley’s myriad laudable alumni, finding other options to rename buildings should not be difficult. A lot of alumni have made prominent contributions to their fields without disseminating hateful views, so it is time that campus acknowledges that removing and changing some building names is a necessity to foster a healthy academic environment.

We can no longer simply live in the past. As the lense we view historical contexts through shifts, we must update outdated fixtures to reflect the present and stand in solidarity with students of color.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.