On anti-racism, fostering diversity and the un-naming of Kroeber Hall
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
The Building Name Review Committee at UC Berkeley will begin its review phase of the proposal to un-name Kroeber Hall. There have already been many social media comments on the proposal. Public comments will be available on August 14th on the Building Name Review Committee website, including my own open comment letter to the Review Committee. My letter first explains why I (as an anthropologist and bioarchaeologist) endorsed the proposal submitted to campus; second, my letter asks us to reflect as a campus, department, and as individuals about our current role in the systemic violence to Native American peoples.
I have been reading lots of comments and statements about how the proposal is unfair and fails to recognize the contributions of one of the most eminent anthropologists of our time. But it is key to note that the proposal was not intended to be a balanced or even-handed discussion of the historical legacy of Kroeber. It was intended to give us an understanding of what the alternative historical experience and truth is for Native American peoples. In accepting to hear this experience, we do not erase the scholarship or academic eminence of Alfred Kroeber – we obviously know about his contributions already or his name would not be on the building in the first place! While naming a building is made under UC Berkeley's policy to honor someone’s achievement or contributions (or their monetary gift), the un-naming of a building is not intended to dishonor someone. Un-naming a building is to uphold our campus’ Principles of Community and our ethical responsibility to promote an inclusive and global perspective of the peoples and cultures of the world, particularly to our own students, staff, faculty, and surrounding community. The proposal to un-name does not mean we cannot acknowledge or continue to celebrate Kroeber within the building or Department, for example with a community collaboratively-designed commemorative installation.
Supporting the proposal, in its intended format, is to actually listen. To listen without adding a “but” or crafting a counter argument. There is a lot discussion of about anti-racism and commitments to diversity, but at this moment, are we really ready to listen?