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UC Berkeley’s glacial effort to rename buildings that honor racists is inexcusable

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AUGUST 29, 2017

When UC Berkeley announced in March 2016 that it would embark on a review of more than 150 building names after concerns about Barrows Hall arose, many were hopeful. But more than a year later, the committee tasked with reviewing building names instead simply recommended creating yet another committee.

This bureaucratic standstill is unacceptable. In 2015, Black Student Union member Blake Simons told The Daily Californian that Barrows Hall is a “daily reminder that Black students are not respected on campus.”

Barrows Hall is named after former UC Berkeley president David Barrows, whose white supremacist ideology informed his anthropological work on the Philippines and regions of Africa during the early 1900s. LeConte Hall is named for the first UC Berkeley president John LeConte and his brother Joseph, who manufactured munitions for the Confederate army. Boalt Hall is named after John Boalt, an attorney and judge whose racist beliefs helped drum up support for the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Students shouldn’t have to continue to sit in classrooms housed in buildings that honor men who oppressed their ancestors.

Instead of responding proportionately to the urgency demanded by the situation, the building naming task force concluded in April with a report that recommended zero substantive action. The report advises that the campus adopt guiding principles for future building naming.

Even considering that the task force faced some uncertainty in late spring because of several administrative shakeups — the committee chair, then-vice chancellor of equity and inclusion Na’ilah Nasir, and former chancellor Nicholas Dirks were both on their way out — the campus shouldn’t have let this fall through the cracks. Committee member and doctoral student Rachel Lim said some members of the task force themselves expressed frustration with the way it concluded.

After the race-based hatred and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and here in Berkeley, and as Confederate statues and monuments come down on college campuses and cities across the nation, it is more important than ever that the campus take swift action.

So why hasn’t Barrows been renamed yet? The task force specifically emphasizes that the names should align with campus values and outlines processes in place for renaming buildings.

The campus now says new Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón and Chancellor Carol Christ are considering how and when to make the new committee that will decide on building names. Campus will also consider ways to clarify that its values have changed since the building was first named through an exhibit or mural in the lobby of Barrows. This is not enough. Forming committee after committee is a baffling way to address the immediate problem at hand.

Christ sent a message to the campus yesterday in light of the “rash of violent rallies that hate and bigotry have spawned across” the country, outlining plans to build more platforms for speech that “celebrates diversity, builds unity, and values all identities.”

But these claims are meaningless promises if UC Berkeley continues to prolong a conversation about the hatred built into the very walls of this campus.


Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

AUGUST 30, 2017