Frequently asked questions on Junipero Serra and Stanford

Who was Junipero Serra?

Father Junipero Serra was a Roman Catholic missionary who lived in the 18th century and established the first several missions in the California mission system.


What is the origin of this issue?

In 2016, the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) passed resolutions requesting that the university rename streets and buildings currently bearing Serra’s name, in recognition of the harmful impacts of the mission system on Native Americans. In addition, the Faculty Senate at Stanford called for “critically reflecting on Stanford’s historical legacy, including the use of names of people who have been associated with it.” Other U.S. universities have been considering similar requests to rename campus features named for historical figures with complex legacies.


What analysis was conducted?

Building on the work of an initial committee that reviewed these issues in 2016-17, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne convened two committees of faculty, students, staff and alumni to make recommendations, drawing on input they solicited from the broader university community and from groups particularly affected by this issue. The first committee developed principles for considering the renaming of campus features generally; they include considerations such as the strength and clarity of the historical evidence, the person’s role in the university’s history, the centrality of a person’s offensive behavior to the person’s life as a whole and the university community’s identification with the named feature. The second committee then applied those principles to the case of Junipero Serra specifically and forwarded its recommendations to President Tessier-Lavigne.


What outreach was conducted?

Broad consultation was a critical part of the process. Together, the three committees received more than 200 written comments from those wishing to provide input. Two open-house meetings were offered to the campus community. The committees also consulted with a variety of important constituencies, including the Roman Catholic community on campus, the Native American community on campus, members of the campus Latinx community, and leaders of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, on whose traditional territory Stanford now sits.


What decision has been made?

The Board of Trustees has approved the recommendation to rename some, but not all, features on campus named for Father Serra. The trustees approved the renaming of Serra Mall – a pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfare located at the front of the campus, which also serves as the university’s official address – along with the Serra dormitory, in Stern Hall; and Serra House, which is home to the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. As part of their action, the trustees endorsed a recommendation from President Tessier-Lavigne to seek approval to rename Serra Mall in honor of university co-founder Jane Stanford, who is not currently recognized on campus in a manner appropriate to her contribution to the university’s founding.

However, the current name of Serra Street on campus will be retained. The university also will develop new signage and other educational support to address the multidimensional legacy of Serra and the mission system in California. Other Stanford features named for Spanish missionaries and settlers will not be renamed absent the discovery of major new evidence about a specific individual’s misconduct, consistent with the committee’s recommendation.


Why does the decision involve renaming some campus features and not others?

Serra’s legacy is complex. The mission system he established played a key role in the founding of modern California as we know it; Roman Catholics also celebrate Serra for his piety and his missionary work, and Pope Francis declared him a saint in 2015. At the same time, the historical record indicates that the mission system Serra founded inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans, and the committee report noted the continuing impact of this historical legacy on members of the campus Native American community today.

Importantly, the committee also noted that Serra had no personal affiliation with Stanford or its founding; indeed, Serra lived a century before Stanford University was established.

Weighing all of the considerations, the committee judged that the high threshold for considering renaming, as outlined in the principles, was met – but that not all campus features should be considered the same. A dormitory to which students are assigned, for instance, may provide a daily reminder to Native American students of the impact of the California mission system on indigenous peoples. But the committee simultaneously argued that other campus features that have less salience, such as an ordinary street, should not be renamed, in order to retain some physical reference to a significant part of California history that influenced the Stanfords and, as well, the architectural design they chose for their university.


When and how will features be renamed?

President Tessier-Lavigne is initiating a process seeking approval to rename Serra Mall in honor of Jane Stanford; that process will involve approvals from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service. The university will select a new name for the Serra dormitory after receiving input from students beginning this fall. It also will consult with faculty on a new name for Serra House, which never was officially named but is known for its previous location on Serra Street, before it was moved and repurposed as an academic building.


What is the difference between Serra Mall and Serra Street?

Serra Mall is a pedestrian and bicycle mall that runs across the front of the Main Quad and is part of the “front door” to the Stanford campus. The official address of Stanford University is 450 Serra Mall. Serra Street, which is open to vehicle traffic, begins at the eastern terminus of Serra Mall and runs to El Camino Real.


What does the renaming of Serra Mall mean for campus departments that use the university’s official mailing address, 450 Serra Mall, in their materials?

No change will occur until the university receives the necessary approvals from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service for the change. Departments should continue to use the existing address until they are notified of a change by the university. More guidance will be provided at that time.


What are the Serra and Junipero student residences?

Serra, in Stern Hall, was named by students in the 1950s for Junipero Serra. Junipero, or “J-Ro,” a residence within Wilbur Hall, was named for the Spanish word for the juniper tree.


What about Junipero Serra Boulevard?

This Santa Clara County road, which runs along the southwest side of the Stanford campus, is not under the university’s control and was not part of this process.