UC-Berkeley law school removes 'racist symbol' of building's name
© UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley School of Law has “denamed” a school building named after a 19th century man who made racist comments against Chinese people and helped spur the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

John Boalt’s name was taken off the campus building Thursday. It is the first time a Berkeley facility’s name has been removed due to “its namesake’s character or actions,” according to a Thursday statement from the university.

In 2017, Charles Reichmann, an attorney and law lecturer, found and publicized Boalt's racist writings. The Thursday statement explains that “John Henry Boalt was instrumental in legitimizing anti-Chinese racism and in catalyzing support for passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — the nation’s first immigration ban on a specific group of people solely on the basis of race or nationality.”

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Boalt wrote that “the Caucasian and Mongolian races are non-assimilated races.” He cited five reasons “why races might fail to assimilate,” according to the Thursday statement, including “physical peculiarities,” “intellectual differences and differences of temperament,” “differences in language and customs,” “hatred engendered by conquest or by clashing of national or race interests” and “religious fanaticism.”

Many at the university casually referred to the law school as a whole as Boalt Hall, and students within the law school were often called “Boalties,” according to the Thursday statement. 

Boalt never attended or taught at the law school. However, after his death in 1901, his widow put property she owned into a trust for the university. 

"It's incredibly important to confront racist symbols, like John Boalt's name on a building, because these symbols act to reinforce the history of white supremacy in our institutions," said Paul Fine, a professor of integrative biology who is a co-chair of the university’s Building Name Review Committee, which was established after Boalt’s legacy was publicized.  

Alex Mabanta, a Ph.D. student in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Department at Berkeley Law who also served on the Building Name Review Committee, said that the change “says to Asian American and Pacific Islander law students, unequivocally: You matter. The process of denaming Boalt Hall says to students of color, unmistakably: You matter. Racial justice matters. We want you to belong to Berkeley Law.”

“If the Chinese Exclusion Act was operative law today,” he added, “I doubt I would be a Berkeley Law student.”

The removal of Boalt's name is the second time the University of California system has removed a name from a campus. In 2018, UC-Irvine removed the last name of Francisco J. Alaya, a donor, from two school buildings "after an internal investigation substantiated sexual harassment claims."