BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Two halls on the University of California at Berkeley campus have had their names removed because the names are associated with people who held racist views, university officials announced Wednesday.
Barrows Hall was named after David Prescott Barrows, who believed the white race was better than all other races.
Professor Paul Fine, the Chair of the university’s Building Name Review Committee, said Barrows’s writings forwarded the notion that non-whites were intrinsically ignorant and illiterate.
“The superiority of the white race, how Filipinos are not suited for self governance, those kinds of things,” Fine explained.
Ironically, the former Barrows Hall is home to several ethnic studies programs. Student body President Victoria Vera, who sits on the Name Review Committee, said its de-naming is only a partial victory, simply because it took so long to happen.
“It highlights the fact that the university needs to put more urgency on addressing the deeply-rooted racism on our campus,” Vera said.
The name LeConte Hall was carved above the doors until workers covered it with wood panels. The physics building was named for bothers John and Joseph LeConte, a pair of Confederate scientists who fled the South during Reconstruction.
John LeConte became UC’s first acting president. Joseph LeConte produced pseudo-scientific writings to convince people of the inferiority of the Black race.
“Here’s somebody couching this argument of racial superiority in an academic tone. These were the foundations of people’s justification for all the Jim Crow Laws and everything that happened after Reconstruction; the backlash,” said Prof. Fine.
Physics student Cecily Lowe said she had studied in the building every day without having any idea who it was named for.
“I wasn’t aware of this,” said Lowe. “And to bring awareness about this and say, ‘That’s not OK,” and that UC Berkeley wants to change it, that, in itself is a huge step forward.”
New names have not been chosen for the halls. Renaming is a separate process from unnaming the buildings and that process is being developed, university officials said.
Until new names are chosen, the former LeConte Hall will be called Physics South (Old LeConte Hall) and Physics North (New LeConte Hall) and the former Barrows Hall will be called the Social Sciences Building.
“Our buildings should not be another reminder that we are and have long been despised,” said fourth-year Ph.D. student Caleb E. Dawson, co-president of the Black Graduate Student Association, in a statement. “They should signal otherwise, and those signals should correspond with institutional norms, policies and practices that make us feel otherwise in our everyday lives.”
Barrows was president of the university from 1919 to 1923. John LeConte was on the UC Berkeley faculty and served as UC’s first acting president. Joseph LeConte was a UC Berkeley faculty member and noted naturalist and geographer.
Both UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and UC president Michael Drake gave their required consent to the denaming of the halls.
Both said the move “will be historically and socially valuable to our campus … and we hope to strengthen inclusion and belonging” at UC Berkeley.
Last year Boalt Hall at the School of Law was also de-named and is now simply called the Law Building. The university says it is not trying to erase the memory of the men or their contributions to the school. They will be memorialized in some fashion, but it will be a more honest explanation than just some shiny letters on a wall.
The decision comes as civic leaders across the nation face calls to remove monuments honoring people such as Junipero Serra and Christopher Columbus. In the Bay Area, a Junipero Serra statue at a church in the San Francisco Archdiocese was recently vandalized.
In San Francisco, the city removed the Christopher Columbus statue from Coit Tower.
Besides recommending the denaming of the two UC Berkeley buildings, the Building Name Review Committee and the authors of the proposals said they want to make sure the history of the three men and what led to the denaming are remembered.
The committee and the proposals’ authors also want to be sure the university works toward a more respectful campus climate and one that affirms everyone’s dignity.
“Unnamings are just the tip of the issue. They’re a step in the right direction—a necessary step, but a small step,” said Melissa Charles, UC Berkeley’s assistant director of African American student development, in a statement.
Charles co-authored the proposal to unname Barrows Hall with her colleague Takiyah Jackson.
Integrative biology professor Paul Fine, chair of the Building Name Review Committee, said in a statement that Wednesday’s announcement “is not about demonizing David Barrows or the LeContes, but about removing offensive symbols we have on campus, so that the people who are here now, and in the future, know that this is their university.”
He added that to be “a truly welcoming institution requires a real investment in making substantive changes to systemic racism, to institutional racism.”
UC Berkeley removed the name of the building housing the School of Law last January. Formerly named Boalt Hall after Oakland attorney John Henry Boalt, the building is now called The Law Building because of Boalt’s racist writings, UC officials said.
Christ said her administration is taking many steps to eliminate racism on campus and in the community.
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