Campus must be proactive in addressing legacies of white supremacy

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Despite unnaming Krober Hall and Barrows Hall, campus failed to follow through by removing work by these scholars from an exhibit celebrating the South and Southeast Asian community.

Illustration about Barrows Hall
Bridget Long/Staff

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Campus has once again talked a big game but failed to follow through. Despite taking important strides in 2020 and early 2021 by unnaming a number of campus buildings honoring men who symbolized exclusion, UC Berkeley featured research by some of these same individuals in a Doe Library exhibit called “Celebrating 50 years of Excellence: South & Southeast Asia Scholarship and Stewardship at Berkeley, 1970-2020.” If UC Berkeley wants to be a trailblazer in academic diversity, it must attend to the less obvious, yet still vital, components of ensuring all students feel safe on campus.

This is the second time campus has belittled the South and Southeast Asian community in the past several months. In March, UC Berkeley attempted to dissolve the South/Southeast Asia Library and replace it with an administrative office. Only in response to outcries by the campus community did UC Berkeley agree to preserve the space.

This is a pattern — UC Berkeley makes large gestures but dismisses smaller spaces on campus and the important details that would fulfill its promises.

Campus may have unnamed buildings honoring these men, but the gesture is superficial considering David Barrows’ and Alfred Kroeber’s work was commemorated in the Doe Library exhibit several months later. Hallway plaques in the now Social Sciences Building have not been changed — they still read “Barrows.” Both scholars represent legacies of white supremacy, anti-Pilipinx sentiment, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity and xenophobia.

The exhibit, intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the South/Southeast Asia Library and the department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, was opened to the public in early March 2020. Barrows Hall was unnamed in November 2020 and Kroeber in January 2021. It took a month of students lobbying for campus to finally make an amendment. It acknowledged that several of the scholars whose work was on display played a role in perpetuating American colonialism and racist perspectives of people of color in the Philippines and the United States.

To add insult to injury, campus did not suitably consult South and Southeast Asian students in the construction of the addendum. It also failed to acknowledge or apologize for implicitly respecting the scholars’ racist actions. In response to student protest, campus took down components of the exhibit a few days earlier than the display was scheduled to be taken down Oct. 31.

History cannot be erased. Only by openly admitting and reflecting on past mistakes can we move forward to create the campus students have desperately been demanding for years.

Unnaming buildings on campus is essential, but students and faculty should understand why these steps, while symbolic, are important. Educational plaques explaining the decision and apologies for the impact honoring these names had on the community should be included in the renaming process.

UC Berkeley must be proactive instead of waiting to react until students call for change. Administrators met with members of the campus community to discuss the exhibit and how it can address the matter, reduce harm and promote healing. This shows that campus has the right intentions, but once again it feels like too little too late.

At an event last week held by students against the Doe Library exhibit, protesters chanted “Berkeley … Do better!” We echo this call.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.