In the past month, Moses Hall was unnamed and is now temporarily known as the Philosophy Hall, an approved decision by campus to dememorialize a problematic figure in history. But the unnaming of this building goes deeper than it appears in what it means for UC Berkeley.
Moses Hall being unnamed isn’t the first in UC Berkeley’s history. In 2020, Physics South and Physics North, previously known as LeConte Hall, and the Social Sciences Building, previously known as Barrows Hall, were unnamed as well. But while campus moves forward with unnaming buildings attached to individuals with racist ideologies, the implications of what this means for UC Berkeley’s campus go deeper.
More often than not, the unnaming of these buildings occurs just on the outside of the buildings, while the classrooms and maps they hold inside still carry the previous names. The Philosophy and Social Sciences Buildings are examples of how renaming may have occurred on the outside, but not inside the building itself.
It is hard to accept the full removal of a building’s name when there are reminders of its past scattered throughout classrooms and maps inside. But this issue stretches beyond the building as well. The unnaming of the physics building was a step in the right direction, but it is counteracted with the name of Le Conte Avenue that runs through Northside. How can campus move forward with these sentiments if reminders of a problematic individual still remain in sight?
The decisions to unname buildings are good ones, but their lack of completion make the actions wholly incomplete. We urge campus to make comprehensive changes to the buildings on campus, to make sure that these names of those we do not want to memorialize any longer are eradicated from the building and campus entirely. Simply changing the name isn’t enough — we need an entire transformation outside and inside these buildings.
The notion to unname buildings isn’t enough alone. We strongly believe that in order to move forward from a racist history, campus must first acknowledge it wholeheartedly. This can take the form of sparking a conversation about why this unnaming occurred and what it means for campus. Campus must not shy away from discussing these heavy topics. There is power in exchange and accountability that campus must continue to explore and bring to light.
We encourage campus to not only unname buildings, but to continue supporting the communities that are harmed by these very individuals in history. There is real work to be continuously done to become an anti-racist school that makes real progress in moving toward a more inclusive campus. Removing the letters off a building is a meaningful start for campus, but it is not the end.