Despite Stanford University's removal of some campus references to Junipero Serra and the neighboring Palo Alto school district's decision to rename David Starr Jordan Middle School in 2018, Stanford's Jordan Hall, also named after the university's founding president and a eugenicist, remained unchanged.
On Tuesday, however, the university announced a committee will consider faculty and student requests to remove Jordan's name from the campus building.
Jordan Hall houses the Department of Psychology, whose faculty members unanimously voted to rename the building. They also asked that a statue outside the building be removed. The statue depicts Louis Agassiz, who Stanford described as a "renowned scholar of natural history, (and) promoted polygenism, which holds that human racial groups have different ancestral origins and are unequal."
"David Starr Jordan and Louis Agassiz, by virtue of their racist ideologies and practices, are incompatible with Stanford's values on initiative, diversity, equity, and access in learning," the professors wrote in a March 9 letter to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. "The name and statue were in place long before the Psychology Department came to occupy the building, and we do not identify with either of the features."
The letter notes the "precedent set" by the Palo Alto school district by renaming Jordan Middle School to Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School after a contentious debate in 2018.
"Featuring Jordan's name on one of the main buildings of Stanford's entrance i) tarnishes our national and international reputations, ii) undermines Stanford's values of initiative, diversity, equity, and access in learning, and iii) prevents staff, students, and faculty, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds (e.g., minority, immigrant, low-income), from developing a sense of inclusion and belonging at Stanford," they wrote.
Psychology doctoral students also support the renaming of Jordan Hall. They reported in a survey that Jordan's name and the Agassiz statute elicit negative feelings, such as anger, discomfort, disrespect, distress and hurt, and that removing the two would increase positive feelings such as comfort, optimism, trust and credibility, the professors said in their letter.
The Stanford Eugenics History Project, founded by undergraduate student Ben Maldonado, asked the university in February to rename Jordan Hall. Maldonado has created a website devoted to research about the history of eugenics at Stanford and Jordan's complicated legacy.
"Acknowledgement of both Jordan's and Stanford's role in the rise and spread of eugenics in the United States is the first step that must be taken by Stanford University: to grapple with difficult histories, we must first be honest and open about it," Maldonado wrote in a 28-page request for renaming. He also asked that Stanford put up a plaque at Jordan Hall that explains "the harm caused by his actions and the lasting legacies of eugenics in the United States."
Tessier-Lavigne said the new committee will convene when Stanford's campus reopens.
"I will ask the committee to engage robustly with the campus community on the issues raised in the requests, which will not be possible to do at a distance during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place," he said.
The committee will consider the requests using principles established for the renaming of facilities named after Father Junipero Serra, including the harmful impact of a person's behavior, the centrality of the behavior to the person's life as a whole, the person's relation to university history, community identification with the named feature, the strength and clarity of the historical evidence and possibilities for mitigation.
Stanford decided last year to rename two buildings that had for years carried the name of Father Junipero Serra to honor two alumnae: Sally Ride, a physicist and the first American woman in space, and Carolyn Lewis Attneave, a psychologist credited with creating the field of Native American mental health.