Stanford University will rename the street that carries the university's official address and two buildings named for Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century founder of the California mission system, but retain Serra Street, the university announced Thursday.
The university board of trustees approved the recommendations of a committee of faculty, staff, students and alumni that has been wrestling with the issue of renaming campus facilities named for a controversial figure — as have many other colleges, universities and school districts across the country, including the Palo Alto school district.
While Serra played a critical role in the development of modern California, his name is also associated with violence against Native Americans, including forced labor, forced living arrangements and corporal punishment, the university noted in a press release. Serra played no direct role in Stanford's founding.
The committee's recommendation to rename some but not all campus features reflects "the complex nature of Serra's legacy and his lack of a direct role in the university's own history," the press release states.
"The committee called for renaming several features on campus that recognize someone who had no direct role in Stanford's history and lived a century before the university was even founded, yet whose role as the recognized leader of the mission system provides an acute reminder to our Native American community of the profound impact of the mission system on indigenous peoples," Jeff Raikes, chair of the Stanford board of trustees, said in the release.
"But the committee also recommended retaining historical reference to Serra and the mission system on campus, as they shaped a significant part of California's history and influenced the Stanfords as they designed the campus. The committee reasoned that this second goal could be achieved alongside the first by retaining names on campus features that are less salient."
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has recommended renaming Serra Mall, the pedestrian and bicycle area at the front of campus that serves as the university's address, after Stanford co-founder Jane Stanford. He will seek approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename the street "Jane Stanford Way."
Two buildings -- the Serra dormitory in Stern Hall and Serra House, which houses the Clayman Institute for Gender Research -- will also be renamed, though the new names have yet to be determined. The university plans to select a new name for the dorm after seeking feedback from students this fall and consult with faculty on a new name for Serra House.
Serra Street, which is open to vehicle traffic and begins at the eastern end of Serra Mall and runs from there to El Camino Real, is an "ordinary street," the committee reasoned. As such, it does "not have the same symbolic salience as buildings or a central focal point of campus like Serra Mall," the committee wrote in a report.
"Furthermore, retaining a street with the Serra name avoids erasing the university's symbolic connection with Serra and, in conjunction with a plaque or other marker, can assist in reminding the campus community and the larger world of this aspect of the university's past."
The university plans to develop new signage and "other educational support to address the multidimensional legacy of Serra and the mission system in California," a renaming FAQ states.
The group also recommended that Stanford seek opportunities to name streets and other campus features after people of all genders and ethnicities, including Native Americans and people of color, and "that it consider other ideas for mitigation, including academic and community-wide education programs."
Stanford noted that Junipero Serra Boulevard, which runs along the southwest side of the Stanford campus, is a Santa Clara County road and was not part of the renaming deliberations. There is also a Junipero dormitory in Wilbur Hall, but it is named for the Spanish word for the juniper tree. The dorm will not be renamed, though Stanford said it will look for opportunities to "clarify the meaning of its name."
This committee was the second devoted to renaming at Stanford. An initial committee was asked to develop principles for considering renaming campus features generally. The principles, which were circulated for community comment and then accepted by Tessier-Lavigne, 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 first committee "set a very high bar for renaming a campus feature, recommending it only when the person for which it is named engaged in wrongful behavior such that 'retaining the name is inconsistent with the university's integrity or is harmful to its research and teaching missions and inclusiveness,'" Stanford said.
The second committee then was asked to apply the principles to the case of Serra.
In their final report, the committee members acknowledge that their final proposal — an "accommodation of competing values" — may not satisfy everyone. The group believes its recommendation, however, "far from erasing history, calls on the university to openly address and reckon with it."
This spring, the Palo Alto school board voted to rename two of its middle schools due to their namesakes' leadership in the eugenics movement. Both former namesakes were affiliated with Stanford: David Starr Jordan (after whom Jordan Hall is named at Stanford) was the university's founding president and Lewis Terman was a Stanford psychologist who created a prominent IQ test.