Boalt Name Removed From UC Berkeley Law Campus

Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky stands outside the main law school building on the UC Berkeley campus. The sign 'Boalt Hall' will be removed Thursday due to 19th-century attorney John Boalt's racist writings.  (Gretchen Krell/UC Berkeley)

Work crews took down the iron "Boalt Hall" sign on the facade of the UC Berkeley Law campus Thursday.

It's all part of the process of separating the controversial legacy of John Boalt, a 19th-century Oakland lawyer, from the law school.

The move has been over two years in the making and will come as no surprise to many in the campus community. In 2018, Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky recommended that Boalt’s name be untangled from the campus, due to his newly unearthed anti-Chinese writings.

In order for the name to be removed, similar recommendations needed to be made by a campus committee, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and UC President Janet Napolitano. That process was finished last week.

According to UC, Boalt’s name was attached to the building after his widow put property in San Francisco into a $100,000 trust for the university to construct a hall in his honor. That property was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but the university still named their newly erected hall "Boalt" in recognition of Elizabeth Boalt’s intentions. John Boalt himself never attended or taught at the university. When the law school moved from that building, now Durant Hall, to the new building in the southeast corner of campus, the name carried over, too.

Sponsored

It's the first building on the UC Berkeley campus to be renamed and the second instance in the 10-campus UC system. The first was at UC Irvine, when sexual assault allegations against geneticist Francisco J. Ayala were verified.

Chemerinsky said removing the name shows a united front.

“To me that's very powerful. And my hope is that those who have concerns about this will go back and read the reports and look at the facts. I think many who do will come to the same conclusions,” Chemerinsky said.

Those reports were first put together in 2017 by Charles Reichmann, a UC Berkeley Law lecturer. Reichmann was researching Chinese immigration in the university’s Bancroft Library when he uncovered a speech filled with racial epithets by Boalt that advocated for “an immediate end to all immigration from China.”

“It was a speech that was filled with very crude racial stereotyping and things that would certainly, to modern ears, be highly offensive,” Reichmann said. He later publicized his findings.

Now, UC Berkeley’s law school will be called just that — Berkeley Law. According to Chemerinsky, the school has always been called Berkeley Law — Boalt was a colloquial term. However, the moniker has been pervasive. It’s plastered on signs throughout the building, serves as the title to alumni clubs and student organizations and exists on letterheads and business cards. The dean's table still has dark blue marbled coasters that say 'Boalt Hall.'

UC Berkeley junior Victoria Vera was part of a 13-member committee that made the decision to remove the name Boalt. (Gretchen Krell/UC Berkeley)

The name change is part of a larger movement. In 2017, in response to student and teacher protest regarding the names of various buildings, Chancellor Carol Christ began to put together the Building Name Review Committee. The 13-member committee approved the change for Boalt Hall in October.

Victoria Vera, a UC Berkeley junior and first-generation college student, was part of the naming committee. She said she’s proud to be part of a movement for “rational and inclusive thinking” on campus.

“It's really important to think about the longevity of this university and to make sure it's a place that I'm proud of,” Vera said. “More importantly, I want it to be a place that, if my children do decide to go here, they're proud of it; that my ancestors would be proud of if they were still alive to see this university.”

Other efforts, like those to address Barrows and LeConte halls, both named after UC presidents with complicated legacies, can also be submitted to the committee. Vera expects that they will.

“The world is changing and so our conversations need to be changing with it,” she said.