‘Words matter’: UC Berkeley community protests Doe Library Philippines scholarship display

photo of a rally on campus
Can Jozef Saul/Staff
Many members of the UC Berkeley community, including leaders of the ASUC and Graduate Assembly, gathered on the steps of Doe Library to call for the removal of a display associated with anti-Pilipinx sentiment.

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Leaders of the ASUC and the campus Graduate Assembly held a press conference Thursday on the front steps of Doe Library protesting a display set up inside.

The display, called “Celebrating 50 years of Excellence: South & Southeast Asia Scholarship and Stewardship at Berkeley, 1970-2020,” features works by David Prescott Barrows and Alfred Louis Kroeber. Both were honored by having buildings on campus named after them, but these names were taken off as a result of protests by students, who argued the two professors expressed racist views and supported white supremacy and colonialism.

At its peak at around 12:20 p.m., about 100 people were present at the press conference. Students and community members held signs reading “Activism is not Terrorism,” “Take back our education” and “Kick out Kroeber.”

During the press conference, many students and other campus community members said they felt it was hypocritical that campus unnamed the buildings but still featured the work of the two professors in a library exhibit that should honor the Pilipinx community.

“White supremacy has brought us to this reckoning point so we need to challenge it at every step of the way,” said Maria Ramirez, a self-described “matriarch” of the Third World Liberation Front, in an interview during the conference.

Alex Mabanta, a campus doctoral student and an organizer of the event, opened the press conference by acknowledging the land as belonging to the Ohlone people.

Mabanta went on to discuss a textbook written by Barrows titled “A History of the Philippines,” featured in the library exhibit. The textbook was used to teach high schoolers in the Philippines, and included racist language which most likely made them “internalize being inferior,” he said.

Mabanta urged the library to “acknowledge and apologize” for the damage it has caused in addition to removing the books. At the end of his speech, he chanted “Berkeley” to the protestors who chanted back “Do better!”

ASUC Senator Stephanie Wong and President Chaka Tellem also spoke against the exhibit during the press conference, referring to an ASUC resolution condemning the display.

Emil de Guzman, a UC Berkeley alumnus who participated in the 1969 Third World Liberation Front strike, which led to the expansion and improvement of ethnic studies on campus, was also present at the event. Guzman spoke about his experiences and the importance of fighting for justice.

“Don’t think power comes from the top down, it comes from the bottom up,” Guzman said during the conference.

In an email to The Daily Californian, campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said campus administrators “hear and understand” students’ concerns over the display and will meet with campus community leaders to “discuss the matter further.”

Gilmore added that library officials have recently modified parts of the exhibit. An acknowledgment was posted explaining some Berkeley scholars who researched the Philippines “played a role in perpetuating American colonialism in that country” and held racist views.

“While individuals such as David Prescott Barrows have a clear legacy of racism towards Filipinos, Black people and Indigenous peoples, they and their work remain part of Berkeley’s history,” Gilmore said in the email. “For that reason we must exercise extreme care, caution and sensitivity when presenting their work and discussing their legacies.”

The event ended with Mabanta leading the group to the library to see the exhibit. 

“Words matter. Representation matters. History matters,” Mabanta said at the press conference.

Contact Diego Lapayese-Calderón at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @diego_lapayese.

A previous version of this article stated Mabanta said racist language in textbooks made high school students in the Philippines feel inferior. In fact, Mabanta feels the racist language used in the textbooks would have made them “internalize being inferior.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Mabanta as saying the library should “understand and apologize” for the damage it allegedly caused. In fact, he said the library should “acknowledge and apologize” the damage it allegedly caused.