Members of the Stanford community came together on Thursday at a ceremony celebrating the official renaming of Serra Mall to Jane Stanford Way. The event celebrated the role of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe in Stanford’s history, as well as Jane Stanford’s contributions to founding the University.
The event began with a land acknowledgment by Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown ’20, the first Native American student to serve as the Stanford Tree, mascot of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. His speech was followed by a few words from Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh, who discussed the role of Native Americans in the Bay Area.
“The efforts to eradicate our culture and our people have clearly failed because of the power that comes from our culture, the strength of our ancestors and [our] belief in our purpose, which is to safeguard and protect our land,” she said. “The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is still here, and we are flourishing stronger than ever.”
Before handing the microphone to Vice Chairwoman Monica V. Arellano for a prayer in the native Muwekma Ohlone language, Chochenyo, Nijmeh thanked Stanford for renaming Serra Mall.
“This is one of those moments we can be proud of,” Nijmeh said. “California’s shameful and horrific [treatment] of the indigenous population needs to be acknowledged and remembered, and what better way to right the wrong than renaming Serra Mall to Jane Stanford Way.”
The renaming came after more than four years of efforts by the Stanford Native community, students, faculty and allies to replace campus landmarks that commemorate the legacy of Father Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Catholic missionary known for his mistreatment of Native Americans.
The renaming of Serra Mall was preceded by renamings of the Serra dorm (now known as Sally Ride) and Serra House (now known as Attneave House) after consultation with the University Advisory Committee on Renaming Junipero Serra Features, which was charged with evaluating Stanford building and site names, and promoting the University’s values of diversity and inclusion.
President Mark Tessier-Lavigne spoke on the process of renaming the street, thanking students and community members who helped catalyze the change. After Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell gave a brief biography of Jane Stanford.
Jane Stanford Way is the first landmark on Stanford’s campus honoring Jane Stanford, who was key in founding the University. Drell, however, did address Jane Stanford’s more questionable decisions, such as the limit she placed on the number of women who could attend the University.
“Jane Stanford certainly wasn’t perfect, and, despite her forward-looking ideas, she was in many respects a product of her time,” Drell said. “She did, however, understand that her wealth put her in a position of power. This is a fitting way to honor someone whose generosity established Stanford University and whose strength and perseverance helped guide it through its early and most fragile days.”
The event ended with final speaker Caelin Marum ’21, co-chair of the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO), who presented a traditional Pendleton blanket as a gift to the University from SAIO. She emphasized the importance of ongoing discussions at the University.
“This moment should be one of pride, but also [of] reflection on the part of all students,” Marum said. “While renaming has been a step forward, there have been so many histories, languages, cultures and people who have been dismissed and abused by the continuous colonization of California. To heal as a society and campus, we must dedicate ourselves to lifting those voices and the voices of the diverse intersectional folks and communities all around us.”