UC Berkeley announced this week that they will remove John Henry Boalt’s name from the law building on campus. Boalt was responsible for the 1882 Chinese exclusion act, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers.
According to a blog post published by UC Berkeley, the public university in California will rename the campus’ law school building in response to a student campaign. Students and faculty members called on the university to remove Boalt’s name from the building over his role in crafting the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
In a letter to the UC Berkeley community, Chancellor Carol Christ highlighted Boalt’s “profoundly offensive and racist statements” about Chinese Americans. Christ went on to argue that Boalt’s values are not aligned with the university.
In 2017, it came to light that Boalt Hall’s namesake — John Henry Boalt — was a leading figure in the movement to ban those of Chinese ancestry from the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Boalt made profoundly offensive and racist statements about Chinese and Chinese Americans, suggesting that it would be better to “exterminate” those of Chinese descent than to have them assimilate. Indeed, Boalt’s principal historical legacy is not of any significant contribution to either the law or to UC, but of helping lay the groundwork for the infamous Chinese exclusion policies of the late 19th century.
Undergraduate student Victoria Vera played a role in the push to have the building renamed. In an interview, she said that she felt it was important to participate in the campaign to have the building renamed because she felt that Boalt would not have wanted her to attend UC Berkeley because of her Mexican descent.
When I first heard of John Henry Boalt, I was completely taken aback. Boalt crafted legislation that led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. When discussing if his name should be removed, people said we should look at his legacy to also see the positive contributions he made. But to be frank, Boalt’s legacy is based on exclusion. Honoring him on campus conserves the intention of the founders of the university that did not include underrepresented students. To think that John Henry Boalt never wanted a student like me to have access to the opportunities of higher education puts a sobering light on the university’s history.
This is reportedly the first time that UC Berkeley has renamed a building over the values of its namesake. UC Berkeley law lecturer first proposed that Boalt’s name be removed from the law school building in 2018.
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