UC Berkeley students, faculty react to unnaming of Barrows Hall, LeConte Hall

Photo of Bradley Afroilan in front of Barrows Hall
Ashley Torres/Courtesy
UC Berkeley officials announced that Barrows Hall and LeConte Hall will be unnamed due to the racist legacies of their namesakes. The next step in the renaming process for the two halls is submitting potential names to UC Berkeley’s Naming Advisory Task Force, according to ASUC President Victoria Vera.

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Campus officials announced Wednesday that Barrows Hall and LeConte Hall will be unnamed due to the racist history behind their namesakes.

UC Berkeley faculty and students, both current and former, expressed a sense of measured celebration in response to the decision. ASUC President Victoria Vera said the decision for her was “bittersweet.”

“The decision is long overdue,” Vera said. “Student groups were advocating for this for years. The sweet part is that the decision is being made. I’m very excited but also aware of all the work that Black and Filipinx groups did to get here.”

According to Vera, the next step in the renaming process is submitting potential names to the campus Naming Advisory Task Force. She added that it is important for students and faculty to submit more potential names to the task force to help the process of renaming.

Vera said she hopes this decision means campus officials are listening to faculty and students.

Campus alumnus Mike Janesin, conversely, said in an email that changing the names of Barrows Hall and LeConte Hall is “overkill.” Janesin added that he felt campus’s efforts were not genuine and were instead meant to show it was “doing something” for racial justice.

However, other students reflected on the advocacy that led to the decision and expressed ideas about next steps for UC Berkeley.

Campus alumnus Anthony Williams, who was involved with efforts to rename Barrows Hall, said in an email that the decision had taken a long time to come. Williams added that it is “funny” timing that the decision came during a time when a lot of “small changes,” such as removing statues and renaming buildings, have taken place.

“It has been five years in the making. I recognize that there was a lot of bureaucracy to go through, but whew did it take a long time,” Williams said in the email. “The real next steps need to move from symbolic victories and toward tangible victories against structural white supremacy.”

Campus alumni Bradley Afroilan worked with Williams in 2015 and 2016 to start the movement to rename Barrows Hall. Afroilan said in an email that this act is validation for the efforts of many students but also expressed the decision was long overdue.

According to Afroilan, expanding funding for ethnic studies, gender and women’s studies, queer studies and creating a Filipinx studies major, among other things, would be major next steps to increasing inclusivity and awareness of racial issues.

“Black and Filipinx students decided to call for the renaming of this building,” Afroilan said in the email. “Black, Filipinx, and POC students in general have been calling for this way before my time at Berkeley and even in the 1960s.”

South and Southeast Asian studies campus lecturer Joi Barrios-LeBlanc also noted concerns that despite the unnaming of buildings, concurrent campus policies that hurt the Filipinx community have continued. For example, according to Barrios, campus budget cuts have reduced enrollment in Filipinx language classes.

In a statement from Reclaim at UC Berkeley, the group noted that it has taken a lot of time and activism to reach the unnaming. It added that work must continue to unname other halls, such as Kroeber Hall and Bancroft Library, while also combatting deeper institutional injustices.

Campus Ph.D. student Caleb Dawson acknowledged in an email that the existence of a committee for unnaming buildings is the result of Black student activism. Dawson added that the purpose of the activism was not just to remove names but to replace them with “Black life-affirming names.”

Campus junior Allysa Mae Abalos said in an email that the unnaming of the buildings was “long overdue.” Abalos reiterated that unnaming these halls has important impacts and shows that UC Berkeley no longer honors a racist history.

“The unnaming of these buildings was absolutely the right decision,” Abalos said in the email. “Having to walk through and sit in this building every day which honored this man who would not have wanted me here in the first place, this work was an act of resistance, of reclaiming a campus.”

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.

A previous version of this article misspelled Bradley Afroilan’s name on second reference.