‘More than a symbol’: UC Berkeley removes Kroeber Hall’s name

Photo of Kroeber Hall
Karen Chow/File
The Building Name Review Committee's unanimous vote to unname Kroeber Hall came as a result of the role Alfred Louis Kroeber, the building's namesake, played in the exclusion and erasure of Native Americans. According to a campuswide email from Chancellor Carol Christ, this decision is less about condemning Kroeber than about creating a more inclusive campus.

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Kroeber Hall was unnamed after receiving approval from UC President Michael Drake on Tuesday morning, becoming the fourth campus building to be unnamed in the last year.

The Building Name Review Committee’s unanimous vote to unname the building was made largely due to the role Alfred Louis Kroeber, the building’s namesake, played in the exclusion and erasure of Native Americans. The building will be called the Anthropology and Art Practice building until a new name is approved.

“A building name is more than a symbol,” said Chancellor Carol Christ in a campuswide email. “Those who we choose to honor reflect who we are, and what we believe in. I am deeply grateful for the faculty, students, and staff whose activism, caring, and engagement are helping us reconcile with our past for the sake of a better future.”

Though he had an impressive scholarly record, Kroeber’s views opposed the contemporary values of UC Berkeley, according to Christ. She added removing his name will support the diverse academic community and help recognize a challenging part of the campus’ past.

One key reason highlighted in the recommendation to unname the building is Kroeber’s collection of Native American ancestor remains stored in a repository on campus to be used for research, according to the email. Then in 1911, after taking custody of a Native American he named Ishi, Kroeber made him into a “living exhibit” in what is now known as the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Kroeber also influenced the federal government’s decision to exclude the Ohlone people from the national register of Native peoples by pronouncing them “culturally extinct,” the email added. The exclusion removed land, influence and recognition from the Ohlone people.

The decision to unname Kroeber Hall is less about condemning Kroeber than about creating a more inclusive campus, according to Christ. She added that though the unnaming is warranted and necessary, it should not take away from the importance of Kroeber’s contributions as a leading anthropologist at the time.

According to the email, Kroeber led the effort to combat the presumption of white European-American superiority. He also preserved Native Californian languages and music, recordings that are used in UC Berkeley’s Breath of Life workshops. Many Native scholars attend these workshops to learn their endangered, ancestral languages.

“This un-naming is but one step in our ongoing efforts to repair our university’s relationship with members of Native American communities on our campus and beyond, and rebuild it on a foundation of respect, equity, and true inclusion,” Christ said in the email.

Maria Young is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.