Naming committee seeks campus suggestions

Members of the campus community are being asked to offer their suggestions about principles for the reconsideration and renaming of landmarks that honor historical figures whose legacies have been called into question, including Junipero Serra.

The Stanford committee working to establish principles for reconsidering and renaming such campus landmarks as streets and buildings is inviting members of the university community to offer their suggestions about criteria that ought to be considered.

Feedback can be submitted to the committee through its webpage until Monday, June 6.

The eight-person committee, composed of faculty and students and chaired by historian David Kennedy, has already begun meeting and has made progress in refining the committee’s charge and reviewing case studies from other colleges and universities.

Kennedy said everyone asked to join the committee agreed, which, he said, “tells us something about the seriousness with which they take this issue and how conscientiously they will work on it.”

In studying other colleges and universities, committee members discovered how vital community outreach is to their proceedings, according to Laura Jones, university archeologist and director of heritage services, who staffs the group.

“Everything we have learned from other colleges and universities that have struggled with similar issues confirms that hearing the community’s voice is critical,” she said.

The committee was formed in March by President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy to establish principles for considering the renaming of campus streets and buildings in light of concerns raised by students about landmarks named for Junipero Serra. Serra was a Roman Catholic Spanish priest who founded the mission network in California. Although considered a saint by the Catholic Church, Serra’s treatment of Native Americans has come under scrutiny in recent years. Among the streets and buildings that bear the Serra name are Serra Mall, which fronts the Main Quadrangle; Serra House, home to the Clayman Institute for Gender Research; and Serra, an undergraduate residence within Stern Hall.

Jones and Kennedy said committee members are looking for opinions about Junipero Serra, as well as for suggestions about general principles that might guide the university about the naming of landmarks after historical figures. What standards should be applied to people whose accomplishments have been honored but whose legacies have been called into question? How can the process of reconsideration be applied consistently across different naming opportunities?

“We hope we get lots of comments and that they are thoughtful,” said Kennedy. “We are looking for comments both on Serra and on the general principles.”

Committee members have studied the experiences of other colleges and universities faced with similar challenges. Jones said their surveys have included:

  • Princeton, where students challenged the legacy of former university and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, whose name is associated with a school and a residential college. Students cited Wilson’s record on racial issues.
  • Oxford, where members of the campus community campaigned for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College. Rhodes is considered one of the most prominent British imperialists of the 19th century.
  • Yale, where students asked that the university rename Calhoun College, a residential college honoring a 19th-century politician known as a white supremacist.
  • The University of New Mexico, where students asked for a change in the seal, which depicts a frontiersman and a conquistador.

The committee hopes members of the university community will forward comments about Serra and suggestions about criteria that ought to be applied to such debates before June 6. Over the summer, the group will consider the Serra case and, based on its understanding of the issues, try to articulate more general principles. Kennedy said committee members hope to identify criteria in October and announce their recommendations during winter quarter.