Don’t close South/Southeast Asia Library

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: The library is an important learning and gathering space for the South and Southeast Asian and broader campus communities

Illustration of students in the South / Southeast Asian Library as it fades away
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

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Tucked away in the southwest corner of Doe Library lies the South/Southeast Asia Library, or S/SEAL. The room is small, intimate. On a map of the UC Berkeley campus, S/SEAL appears a mere speck, too easily wiped away.

Now, it seems the University Library is poised to do just that, proposing the dissolution of S/SEAL and the repurposing of the room it occupies.

The simple juxtaposition of the current use for this space — a one-of-a-kind center dedicated to the aggregation and celebration of South and Southeast Asian scholarship — and the planned use — an administrative office — is really all that needs to be said here. 

Still, let us say more.

Not only has S/SEAL carved out an immensely important academic space for researchers to consult with curators and access special collections, but it also serves as a treasured community sanctuary. The library is both a practical and symbolic grounding point for many, particularly those in the field of South and Southeast Asian studies. 

On a sprawling campus like UC Berkeley, the value of a physical space, dedicated to a shared purpose and cherished by like-minded students, faculty and staff, cannot be overstated. 

That S/SEAL is dedicated exclusively to the scholarship of South and Southeast Asia also cannot be ignored at a time when Asian Americans face growing hate across the United States.

In the wake of a rise in anti-Asian racial violence in the Bay Area, the dissolution of S/SEAL seems not only ill-conceived but particularly cruel. The same is true in light of findings from a recent campus survey, which revealed exclusion experienced by many people of color at UC Berkeley. Because of cultural differences, South and Southeast Asian Americans in particular often feel excluded from the mantle of Asian Americans. The closure of S/SEAL would further exclude an already marginalized community. 

In its proposal, the University Library argues the changes to S/SEAL will make its resources more accessible to researchers. But when students, faculty and alumni alike are mourning the potential loss of the library space, it’s clear this is not the case. Instead, repurposing S/SEAL will only contribute to epistemological practices that, to this day, too often disregard the specific histories and cultures of underrepresented peoples.

In defense of S/SEAL, a petition has circulated around campus and beyond, garnering more than 5,000 signatures as of press time. Dozens of supporters have offered powerful testimonials of their connections to S/SEAL and the shared sense of belonging the library has created for them.

Those deciding the future of S/SEAL should read every one of these comments — and promptly cancel any plans for the library that may jeopardize the rich scholarship and community the space continues to foster.

The University Library has opened a Call for Comment on its S/SEAL proposal. Send comments to [email protected] by April 9 to ensure your voice is heard.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.