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Serra renaming is too little, too late

We arrived at Stanford to the news that the administration has finally saw fit to rename some of Stanford’s landmarks currently named after Junipero Serra, noted colonizer and perpetrator of genocide. Many are undoubtedly thrilled by this outcome. I am not.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think it is good that Serra (the dorm) and Serra (the home of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research) and Serra Mall (the home of the University’s official mailing address) will soon no longer bear that name. But just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s good enough, and this result is not good enough.

In order to show why the renaming process has left much to be desired, I simply ask you to think back to when the process first started. Do you remember?

Because I sure don’t. In fact, if you are a student on campus right now, it is significantly more likely than not that you weren’t even here when the renaming process began. It was only after digging around The Daily’s archives that I found that the process actually began all the way back in February of 2016 – the winter quarter of my freshman year, when the ASSU passed a resolution asking the University to rename landmarks named after Serra.

And now, almost three years later, I am a senior who will soon graduate, and the new names for the two Serra houses are still nowhere in sight.

To show just how ridiculously slow the renaming process has been, consider a similar effort that took place right next door in the Palo Alto Unified School District. On December 7, 2015, the parent of a seventh-grader started a petition online to rename two schools that had then been named after David Starr Jordan and Lewis Terman, after said seventh-grader’s school project revealed that both men were vile racists and eugenicists who supported the ethnic cleansing of racial minorities in America. Within two months, the school board voted to enjoin a committee to review the names of all of the district’s schools on February 10 – the same exact day that our own ASSU passed their resolution.

And yet, despite having the same start date, the Palo Alto school board moved at a decidedly faster pace, voting to rename the two middle schools on March 17, 2017, just over a year after the committee had been formed. The entire process, which started from a seventh-grader’s research project and worked its way through myriad layers of bureaucracy and a maze of stakeholders, took just 16 months. And by the beginning of their 2018-19 school year a few weeks ago, Palo Alto middle-schoolers got to attend Frank S. Greene, Jr. and Ellen Fletcher Middle Schools.

Meanwhile, we returned to school for the 2018-19 school year more than 31 months into the process, with (and I can’t stress this enough) the new names for the two Serra houses still nowhere in sight.

This story from Palo Alto matters more than just because of the poignant contrast in speed of action. It also matters because names like David Starr Jordan are intimately familiar to us at Stanford, as it is the namesake of Jordan Hall (which I strongly recommend be referred to only as Building 420). And if Jordan’s is not a name that reflects the values of a public middle school, then it is certainly not a name that reflects the values of one of the finest universities in the world.

Somehow, I have a hunch that even if the names Terman and Jordan were to be removed from Stanford’s campus, it would take significantly longer than 16 months.

One of the widely recognized challenges of campus activism is how transitive a university’s student body is. Most folks are only here for a few years before they graduate and that gives administrators the ability to oppose activists by doing nothing and simply waiting them out. Whether this is what Stanford intended to do all along with the elongated renaming process is beside the point. Either way, as it currently stands, the hard work of countless Stanford activists apparently have less sway than the class project of a seventh-grader. Whether purposeful or not, Stanford’s tedious renaming process has outlasted many a graduating student activist and that makes activism incredibly unsustainable which makes change unnecessarily difficult.

I’m not advocating that the process be rushed, but it should not take the entirety of my undergraduate career for a committee composed of the most brilliant people on Earth to figure out that we shouldn’t have a building named after a guy who advocated for the forced sterilization of racial minorities.

 

Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the namesake of Terman Fountain. EJ Miranda, the University spokesperson, has written to inform me that the Terman Fountain is actually named after Fred Terman, the Electric Engineering Professor and not Lewis Terman, the eugenicist (you know, in the same way that Junipero the dorm is not technically named after the tree and not Junipero Serra). I apologize for this error and rescind my suggestion that Terman Fountain be renamed like Jordan Hall, although my criticisms of Lewis stand.

 

Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Terence Zhao

Terence Zhao

Terence Zhao '19 originally hails from Beijing, China, before immigrating to the US and settling in Arcadia, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. He is majoring in Urban Studies, and promotes the major with cult-like zeal. In his spare time, he likes to explore cities and make pointless maps.