Stanford renaming Serra sites over treatment of tribes
In an effort to distance itself from Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century leader of the California Mission system that helped to destroy native culture throughout the state, Stanford University has announced it will erase the name “Serra” from two dormitories and its own mailing address on Serra Mall.
From 1769 to 1823, Spanish colonists built 21 missions in which native people were kept as slave labor and punished if they tried to escape. Serra founded the first nine.
The system “contributed to the destruction of the cultural, economic, and religious practices of indigenous communities and left many tribal communities decimated,” wrote a Stanford committee charged with recommending whether to scrub Serra’s name from university buildings and roads.
Stanford is the latest among many academic institutions that in recent years have taken a new look at campus structures honoring history’s villains: slaveholders, leaders of the Confederacy and propounders of hate.
On Tuesday, the UC Berkeley School of Law announced it will purge numerous campus references to “Boalt,” a name associated with the famed law school for more than a century, because the actions of its namesake, John Boalt, had led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The school will retain an endowed chair named for Boalt.
Similarly, Stanford won’t scrub all references to Serra. One “ordinary street” on campus will remain named for the former priest and friar of the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church whom Pope Francis canonized in 2015. The committee that recommended the changes said the street lacked the “salience” of the other features that will no longer celebrate Serra.
Regarding Serra’s canonization, the committee wrote: “Though we have no doubt about Serra’s piety and good intentions, it is also a fact that the mission system pervasively mistreated and abused California’s Native Americans.”
The committee recommended against renaming other features on campus named after Spanish missionaries without “the discovery of major new evidence about a particular individual’s misconduct.” Doing so could minimize the role of the mission movement in Stanford’s founding history, the group said.
The Stanford trustees agreed to seek approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename Serra Mall — the university’s main entrance and its mailing address at No. 450 Serra Mall — for its co-founder, Jane Stanford.
“Curiously, we currently have no major campus feature that appropriately honors her,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.
Stanford founded the university in 1885 with her husband, Leland Stanford, and helped steer it through “the many struggles of its early years, particularly after her husband’s death” in 1893, just two years after the university opened its doors, Tessier-Lavigne said.
The university trustees also approved renaming the Serra dormitory in Stern Hall, and Serra House, where the Clayman Institute for Gender Research is located. New names have not yet been chosen.
“We hope that renaming the two Serra houses and Serra Mall will remove a significant hurt to Native Americans, other members of the Stanford community, and the larger diverse world that Stanford seeks to embrace,” the committee concluded.
The committee acknowledged the “sense of loss” that alumni and others feel at changing the name that for 127 years has announced Stanford’s main street. And yet, the committee said, its prominence “does not depend on its bearing a name that causes genuine pain.”
A church marks the entrance to Stanford University on Serra Mall, named after missionary Junipero Serra. The campus is dropping the Serra name.