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Following controversy over potential honoree, two Palo Alto middle schools renamed after Stanford professor, former mayor

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

After considering nine final candidate names in the renaming of Terman and Jordan middle schools, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) board decided on March 27 to rename Terman Middle School after former Palo Alto Mayor Ellen Fletcher and to rename Jordan Middle School after former Stanford professor Frank Greene Jr.

In a unanimous vote on Mar. 17, 2017, the board opted to rename the two schools named after former Stanford President David Starr Jordan and former Stanford psychology professor Lewis Madison Terman due to each individual’s association with the eugenics movement.

PAUSD board member Melissa Caswell expressed her belief that the school renaming is a dynamic process.

“If we uncover things that are truly against our values, then we shouldn’t be celebrating those people,” Caswell said. “And maybe in 20 to 30 years we’ll find something not good about the current names, and then we’ll need to change them.”

Caswell said that, in the PAUSD case, changing the names of Terman and Jordan was long overdue. Caswell said it was clear that the names should go after a seventh-grade student brought up the connection between eugenics and the legacies of both Terman and Jordan in a school research project.

“There’s a difference between ‘this wasn’t the friendliest guy, or he didn’t kiss every baby’ and somebody who did something that really goes against our values,” Caswell said. “That can be hard. Sometimes there are fine lines there, but there wasn’t a fine line with Terman and Jordan. It was clear.”

However, Caswell pointed out that not all community members are pleased with the decision, particularly because of the decision not to name one of the two schools after Japanese-American and Palo Alto High School alumnus Fred Yamamoto.

Renaming is not an issue unique to Palo Alto’s middle schools. Through petitions, marches and other forms of advocacy, Stanford students have pressured the University to rename campus landmarks honoring both Jordan and 18th Century missionary Junipero Serra, who has raised controversy over his mistreatment of Native peoples.

On campus, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has arranged for two committees to address the controversy: The first is currently devising principles to which Stanford leaders should adhere when considering renaming. The second group will apply the principles to the specific case of Junipero Serra.

Yamamoto controversy

Yamamoto graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1936 and volunteered to serve the U.S. army in World War II, even after he was being detained in a Japanese internment camp at Heart Mountain. Yamamoto entered the war in 1944 as a member of the 442nd Regiment. He died in battle on Oct. 28 of that same year while serving in France. Yamamoto was 26 years old.

“He was an upstanding young man,” Caswell said. “He gave everything to his country, including his life — but before his life he gave his home, he gave his possessions, and he gave his community.”

But Caswell said that many Chinese-American members of the Palo Alto community protested the proposed use of Yamamoto’s name due to potential confusion with World War II Japanese naval leader Isoroku Yamamoto, who helped lead the Pearl Harbor bombing. A Change.org petition started by “Concerned PAUSD Members” urged the board to name Jordan and Terman middle schools after landmarks, not people, and to “NOT consider Yamamoto, in particular, as a school name.” The petition garnered 1,346 supporters before closing.

“Yamamoto is, without a doubt, an inspirational figure, but sadly enough his last name undeniably also symbolizes a notorious figure from World War II,” the petition read.

Isoroku Yamamoto served as Japanese Marshal Admiral of the Navy and commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II until his death in April 1943. His involvement in the bombing of Pearl Harbor and other “tragedies” in Asia was specifically cited as a source of concern on the Palo Alto petition.

“We had two weeks of a ridiculous amount of email coming to our inboxes about how upset people were about this name,” Caswell said. “I think if that hadn’t happened we would have chosen [Yamamoto].”

Caswell said she was disappointed that the Palo Alto community seemed split by Yamamoto’s name. She said it is unfair to connect the American-born Yamamoto to the Japanese Admiral.

But the petition argued that the association would be inevitable. “People may be confused about which Yamamoto a school’s name is referring to: In conversation, the full name of a school is almost never used,” it read.

During the school board meeting, at which the final naming decision was made, approximately 70 speakers received one minute each to share their opinions. Caswell said she was disappointed that most of the discussion centered on the controversy surrounding Yamamoto, with the audience split nearly half-and-half on whether or not to use the name. She pointed out that a veteran of the 442nd Regiment and relatives of other veterans attended the meeting.

“I think the generation who are in school right now and the generation of young parents are so far away from a war that the idea of someone giving up their life to protect their community hardly means anything anymore, and that to me is very upsetting,” Caswell said.

Caswell mentioned that people handed out flyers at both Palo Alto middle schools prior to the renaming in order to encourage people to protest Yamamoto’s selection. According to Caswell, there are five families in the district that share Yamamoto’s surname.

“If I was a Yamamoto family, and I got one of these flyers, it would be pretty upsetting,” Caswell said.

PAUSD Board President Ken Dauber wrote in an email to The Daily that he had no problem with naming one of the middle schools after Fred Yamamoto.

“I supported Fred Yamamoto as the name for one of the middle schools because of his mistreatment as a Japanese-American and then sacrifice for our country,” Dauber wrote. “I recognized that his selection became controversial, but I thought that we should lead the community in sending a strong message about inclusion and mutual respect.”

According to The Mercury News, none of the 13 renaming committee members were Asian-American or Hispanic, although PAUSD contains 36 percent Asian-American and 12 percent Hispanic students. Dauber acknowledged that some may view this discrepancy as a violation of board policy. He considered returning the renaming conversation to the committee after adding to it more Hispanic and Asian-American representatives, but the idea lacked sufficient support.

“I believe that the Japanese community feels very badly about how this went down,” Caswell said. “There’s been some effort to put a scholarship in place in Fred’s name, and I do think many members of the community have rallied for that, but I do believe it’s going to take some healing here. I had no idea that there was this rift in the community.”

Fletcher and Greene

As for the names selected, those of Frank Greene Jr. and Ellen Fletcher, Caswell said she thought the two middle schools now had names in which students can take pride.

Greene served as assistant chairman of Stanford’s Electrical Engineering Department from 1972 to 1975. In the 1960s, he helped design what was then the fastest memory chip in the world. He was also the founding CEO of Technology Development Corporation and a founding General Partner of New Vista Capital and New Vista Capital Funds. Greene died in 2009 at the age of 71.

Fletcher was a Holocaust survivor who served as Palo Alto mayor and council member after immigrating to the United States. She also spent 40 years volunteering for environmental causes in the area. She died in 2012 at the age of 83.

“I found [Greene and Fletcher’s] personal stories of surviving discrimination to be compelling, particularly in light of the larger purpose of rejecting the names of eugenicists for the schools,” Dauber wrote.

Caswell said that the final two names were selected after each board member shared their top three names and then deliberated over the names receiving the most support. According to Dauber, names of landmarks were removed from consideration because “a majority of the board decided that naming the schools after people would be more inspirational.”

“If we hadn’t had this whole controversy about Fred, I don’t think anybody would feel bad about the two [names] we [selected],” Caswell said. “We’re talking about overturning two fathers of eugenics, [Terman and Jordan], and we picked a very impressive black man and a very impressive Jewish woman, both of whom the eugenics movement [threatened]. I think we did the right thing.”

Dauber described diversity as “very important” in the selection of new names for the middle schools. Caswell added that each individual’s inspirational value and connection to Palo Alto were also important factors during selection.

She also emphasized a desire to elevate lesser-known historical figures, especially when considering already-established figures such as William Hewlett.

“Although William Hewlett is a fabulous person, I felt like he’s been celebrated in a lot of different ways,” Caswell said. “I was pulled towards the other names a little bit more because they weren’t people that anyone knew about, and you know, you need to have more heroes. Less heroes isn’t a good way to go.”

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

An earlier version of this article referred to “Terman and Jordan” as “Lewis and Terman” in one instance. It also mistakenly said that Terman Middle School would be renamed after Frank Greene Jr. and that Jordan Middle School would be renamed after Ellen Fletcher, when in fact Terman was renamed after Fletcher and Jordan was renamed after Greene. The Daily regrets these errors.

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