The University of California, Berkeley, the nation’s most prestigious public school, has moved forward with de-naming two more buildings on its campus because the persons the buildings were named after held racist or colonialist beliefs.
LeConte Hall and Barrows Hall were deemed problematic after campus community members submitted them for review by the Building Name Review Committee in July.
According to the university, Joseph LeConte served in the confederacy and “used scientific language to promote racist ideas.” The building was named after him and his brother, John LeConte, a former UC president who was an officer in the confederacy.
The other building was named after David Prescott Barrows, a former UC president and decades-long faculty member at UC Berkeley. Barrows served as a school superintendent in the Philippines prior to arriving as a professor at Berkeley in 1910. He believed Europeans were “superior” to other races, and Filipinos were incapable of “self-governance.”
Raka Ray, dean of UC Berkeley’s Division of Social Sciences, has argued that removing the names of historical figures on buildings isn’t actually the same as scrubbing history.
“Unnaming is not an erasure of history, but a profound acknowledgment of history,” she said, “a reckoning of the present with the past. The unnaming of Barrows represents this acknowledgement and pledges commitment to a future that Berkeley stands for.”
The decision to de-name the building comes as progressive activists have looked toward renaming buildings as an opportunity for confronting “racism.”
Over in San Francisco, a committee for the public school system recently identified nearly 50 schools with problematic names, including schools named after George Washington, Paul Revere, and Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Earlier this year, UC put the name of its entire law school on the chopping block due to its association with a man who was racist toward Chinese people in the 1800s.
According to The New York Times, John Baolt, after whom the law school was named, made a speech titled “The Chinese Question,” which is broken down into subsections including physical peculiarities, intellectual differences, and differences of temperament, and “hatred, engendered by conquest, or by clashing of national or race interests.”
Paul Fine, a professor and renaming committee co-chair, suggested that scrapping names was a way of challenging “the history of white supremacy in our institutions.”
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ has vowed to take additional steps to “eliminate racism” at the university.
“A building name is more than a symbol. Those who we choose to honor reflect who we are and what we believe in,” said Christ in a statement. “I have committed my administration to doing everything in its power to identify and eliminate racism wherever it may be found on our campus and in our community.”
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