Today, as a culture, America is deciding whose names to say.
Beginning July 1, UC Berkeley again reconsidered the names it honors as proposals were announced to dename Kroeber, LeConte and Barrows halls. Each building name venerates a man who devoted his life to acts or advocacy of racial oppression and subjugation — desecrating and violating Indigenous lands and lives, enslaving hundreds of people or promoting colonialist dehumanization of Black and Pilipinx peoples.
Half a decade of community advocacy has voiced the urgent need to remove the names of racist oppressors — a movement The Daily Californian has documented and supported. Since 2015, the Black Student Union and other student groups have worked to remove racist, imperialist names from campus buildings. Numerous faculty members have sought the same. Yet despite efforts from all corners of the campus community, the names remain.
Each day these buildings retain their names offers manifest proof to students of color that suggests they are unwelcome on their own campus, that campus administrators have not made racial justice a real priority, that UC Berkeley is willing to equivocate about its culture of white supremacy. It is far, far past time to remove these heinous names.
Yet merely denaming Kroeber, LeConte and Barrows — as UC Berkeley School of Law denamed Boalt Hall — is transparently insufficient. If UC Berkeley understands and opposes white supremacy, campus leaders will not simply excise the names of oppressors. They will replace those names with the legacies of those who defied them, those who worked to dismantle the United States’ racist foundations.
Ishi Court in Dwinelle Hall, for instance, commemorates a survivor of the Indigenous genocide, a man of the Yahi tribe who was abused and dehumanized by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. At present, UC Berkeley offers no meaningful recognition that it occupies Ohlone lands, nor does it properly acknowledge its part in the United States’ enduring oppression of Indigenous peoples. To make the most of this moment, UC Berkeley should not name its halls for the donations of wealthy benefactors but for the work of Black and Indigenous leaders and alumni — the people responsible for the United States’ painstaking social progress.
For years, the campus response has been glacial and timid, establishing task forces and configuring committees in an effort to assess how much racism UC Berkeley can continue to excuse. Campus leaders have professed to care deeply about community input. Perhaps national fury over the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others will be enough to turn years of recommendations into action.
But UC Berkeley must be careful. Denaming buildings is closer to erasure than to actual justice. To prove it cares for the rights and the fundamental worth of people of color, UC Berkeley will have to say their names.
Campus community members are encouraged to consult the building name review proposals and offer public comment in support of renaming Kroeber Hall, LeConte Hall and Barrows Hall.