The University of Melbourne’s Richard Berry building has been renamed to the Peter Hall building in an effort to create a more inclusive campus environment.
Hall is a late fellow of the University renowned for his contribution to probability theory. The new figurehead of the School of Mathematics and Statistics lost a battle with leukaemia in January 2016.
“Peter received numerous other awards and medals, and presented countless prestigious lectures around the world,” a University spokesperson said.
“He was also extraordinarily generous with his time, be it for students, colleagues or for science more broadly.”
The name change follows an outbreak of media coverage detailing Berry’s self-identification as a eugenicist. He performed infamous experiments on Indigenous Austalians and sought to sterilise and segregate them through his research. In 2003, many years after his death, 400 skulls from this practice were uncovered on campus.
“It was a necessary step forward that needed to be taken to acknowledge the atrocities of the past,” University of Melbourne Student Union Indigenous Officers, Wunambi Connor and Marley Holloway-Clarke, said.
Arrernte student Tré Turner wasn’t aware of Berry’s dark history his entire first year at the University.
“I was pretty confused because there was no acknowledgment of it and it even seemed hidden,” Turner said. “The plaques never identified who he was yet sort of idolised him.”
While the renaming is indeed a step in the right direction for reconciliation, several other buildings on campus remain named after advocates of eugenics. These include the John Medley building, the Frank Tate learning centre, the Agar Lecture Theatre and the Baldwin Spencer building.
“The Uni needs to identify these people so as to not deny history,” says Turner.
While some say it is wrong to modify historical buildings, others feel that a lack of doing so condones racist ideologies and perpetuates discriminative behaviour.
“Every student deserves to feel safe on this campus,” Connor and Holloway-Clarke said.
In November 2016, the University announced a review into the names of current buildings and the process of naming them in the future. This will work alongside the University’s Reconciliation Action Plan to increase representation and recognition of Indigenous students.
“We hope that the University will follow through on one of its core promises for this year,” Connor and Holloway-Clarke said.
“We should not be celebrating those who attempted to destroy anyone’s humanity.”