TWO HALLS ON the University of California at Berkeley campus had their names removed this week because the names are associated with people who held racist views, university officials announced.

LeConte Hall was named after brothers John and Joseph LeConte, the latter of whom espoused racist ideas through scientific language. Barrows Hall was named after David Prescott Barrows, who believed the white race was better than all other races.

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.

The metal letters that spelled Barrows Hall sit in a plastic bucket after work crews removed them. (Photo by Irene Yi/UC Berkeley)

Painful reminders

“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.

David Prescott Barrows appears on the right in this photo taken on Charter Day 1922, when he was UC president. (Bancroft Library photo, courtesy of UC Berkeley)

Both said the move “will be historically and socially valuable to our campus … and we hope to strengthen inclusion and belonging” at UC Berkeley.

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.

The unnaming game

“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.

Joseph LeConte, the first acting president of the UC system, gives a birthday lecture in 1899. Both LeConte and his brother, John, were the namesakes for LeConte Hall. (Bancroft Library photo, courtesy of UC Berkeley)

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.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.