Stroll around the lovely campus of Stanford University and one name surrounds you. Junipero Serra.
Two dorms; an academic building; a street (Serra Mall) that fronts Stanford’s historic Main Quad and is the university’s official address; and a major road running through the 8,000-acre campus are all named after Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish-born Franciscan friar who founded the first nine of the 21 California missions.
Now Native American and other campus activists are pressuring Stanford to erase from the campus all traces of the padre. Serra, the activists say, brutalized Indians at the missions, covered for Spanish colonization and squelched indigenous culture by converting the Indians to Catholicism.
There was a time when Brother Serra was honored. There is a time when he’s too awful to exist. This presented a problem, and not just the cost of buying some new signs. What was the alternative?
Stanford administrators have been wringing their hands over all this since March 2016, when the student assembly passed a resolution calling for the renaming of three buildings and a change of the university’s official address. (Stanford doesn’t have the power to rename the Mall, its campus extension, Serra Street, or the bigger public thoroughfare Junipero Serra Boulevard.) The Stanford Graduate Council and the Faculty Senate quickly joined in. The university set up a committee to recommend new names, but after a year and a half of inability to come to a consensus, the committee announced in October that it was giving up and would instead issue guidelines for future deliberations.
Reminiscent of “everything is problematic,” these are hard times for deciding who in history didn’t offend someone.
That decision didn’t sit well with some students and alumni. One Native American activist called it a “slap in the face.” And indeed Stanford does seem to be missing out on a growing trend of altering campus infrastructure whose original namesakes are no longer in compliance with current notions of political acceptability.
But history is a bitch, and the fact remained that Serra existed.
But that ought to be beside the point. Serra is inextricably intertwined with the history of Stanford University, and the history of California itself. He cannot be easily purged.
If Serra isn’t easily erased from the “history of Stanford University,” then what of Leland Stanford himself?
So, the politically correct activists at Stanford University want to remove St. Junipero Serra’s name from their sanctimonious institute. Fine.
However, I think they should first look into the record of their founder, Leland Stanford, who didn’t even bother to hide his racist view of Chinese people by saying to the state Legislature in 1862, “The presence of numbers of that degraded and distinct people would exercise a deleterious effect upon the superior race.”
Oh my god, Stanford sounds almost as horrifying as Brock Turner! How is it possible all those students and alums should be forced to suffer seeing the name of this racist at the top of their diplomas. I’m literally shaking.
But what to do? You can’t name every building Harriet Tubman Hall, as froshpersons won’t know where their classes are being held. Graduates of the University in Palo Alto that cannot be named can always take a crayon and cross out the offending name, replacing it with whoever is least problematic to their identity group (sorry, intersectional people for whom no one suffices, but you’re on your own).
What a mess this will make with their LinkedIn profiles, where no one will appreciate that listing a degree from Harriet Tubman University won’t distinguish you from every other woke graduate of a school of the same name.
I suggest to the activists that they try to remove this blatant white supremacist’s name from their institute before dabbling with anyone else. Otherwise, their demands ring hollow.
Stanford University has a certain cachet. Like Harvard. Like Yale. If only we were always as woke when taking people’s money to start universities as we are today. Oh, and they really need to give back the dirty money of racists (right Cecil Rhodes?) if they’re to be politically pure.