A neighborhood council in Westwood is pushing to rename a street bordering UCLA because of the namesake’s racist past. It’s part of a growing effort to reevaluate and rename familiar places in many schools, as advocates say it’s part of a first steps to moving towards an anti-racist future.
The street in question is Le Conte Avenue, named after Joseph LeConte, who was a co-founder of the Sierra Club but also worked for the Confederacy during the Civil War and opposed black voting rights.
"There are a lot better people to name a street in Westwood after," says Grayson Peters of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council.
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"I think it says a lot about who we used to be as a university city and country that this was not considered disqualifying," Peters said.
Peters and the council is asking the city to rename Le Conte Avenue, perhaps after Jackie Robinson, James LuValle or other notable UCLA alumni of color.
"This is really really the least that we can do is change these names that promote these racist people," says Furkan Yalcin, a member of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council.
Yalcin is also leading a petition effort to rename UCLA’s Janss Steps because of the Janss family’s history of trying to block people of color from living in Westwood.
Another renaming effort is happening at Caltech, where the name Robert Millikan is memorialized throughout the campus. But Millikan was an advocate of racist policies like eugenics and forced sterilization.
"As students, we took Millikan as granted; we took a lot of things for granted," says Michael Chwe, a UCLA professor.
"You begin to realize certain things you took for granted shouldn’t be taken for granted."
Chwe, a UCLA professor and Caltech graduate, is leading a petition to have Millikan’s removed from the Caltech campus.
"The sooner we get this done, the sooner that we can try to live in a way consistent with all our values," Chwe says.
The professor adds, "We don’t need to keep these names here to remember what happened in the past...While it is symbolic that symbolism is important."
Both UCLA and Caltech say they are taking the concerns seriously.