The campus building formerly known as Moses Hall was unnamed Tuesday, in accordance with a proposal to Chancellor Carol Christ’s Building Name Review Committee, or BNRC, in May 2021.
Campus members expressed their thoughts and reactions to the building’s unnaming, as well as the building’s relation to the documented racist and white supremacist ideologies of its former namesake Bernard Moses.
In her letter to UC Board of Regents President Michael Drake, Christ said removing the name Moses will “help Berkeley recognize a challenging part of history,” and support the diversity of today’s academic community.
Philosophy Hall, as it will be known temporarily, houses the philosophy department, the Institute of Governmental Studies and global, international and area studies.
“This was not a decision taken lightly,” said Alva Noë, chair of the philosophy department. “The department did research, wrote reports and evaluated the case to disassociate the name from the building.”
Noë commended the graduate students who came forward in the summer of 2020 to raise concerns over Moses’ teachings. Drake’s approval of the unnaming was “received with joy” from those in the philosophy department.
However, the name “Moses” and unnamed namesakes can still be seen in building interiors and adjacent campus buildings and programs.
According to graduate student representative to the BNRC Alex Mabanta, both the BNRC and Christ have recommended the removal of Moses’ name from campus features and programs.
Reckoning with the legacies of unnamed buildings’ namesakes on campus is still one of the most important tasks that lies ahead, Mabanta said. While Moses Hall is the fifth building on campus to be unnamed, Mabanta added, there is still unfinished business in restorative justice across campus.
“UC Berkeley must act with greater urgency to execute campus commitments both to unnaming and to acknowledging the campus’s past for the present and future,” Mabanta said.
The action taken by removing the building’s lettering is a largely symbolic one taken to affirm the philosophy department and campus’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, Noë remarked. However, Noë emphasized that the actions and content that follow must speak toward that commitment.
Outreach facilitator of the campus Latinx Caucus Paris Asher remarked that she was “happy” to see the decision to unname the building. However, while she does not wish to erase history, Asher added, she feels it is important to reflect on the university’s past and those whose legacies have been memorialized.
To Asher, the next steps in the unnaming process should include how the building is renamed in a way that represents the communities targeted by Moses’ work. An exhibit, such as a mural or art piece, in replacement of Moses’ name on the building, could bring attention toward the issue without honoring Moses’ racist ideologies.
The unnaming of Moses Hall is “a step in the right direction,” Asher said. However, without further support or attention toward communities of color, it can be seen as “performative,” Asher added, noting that recent actions taken by campus administration that delay meetings with the Latinx Caucus indicate there is still progress to be made with regards to taking care of these communities.
“We can rename as many buildings as we want,” Asher said. “But there are still communities of color struggling that campus should be supporting.”