At universities across the country, centuries-old names that adorn buildings, streets and squares are under siege — from Stanford’s Serra Mall to UC Berkeley’s Barrows Hall to Yale’s Calhoun College.
Once widely revered in a different era, a priest, anthropologist, vice president and dozens of others whose names are etched on college campuses have become the subject of a historical autopsy. Students, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, are calling for the removal of symbols honoring people connected to slavery and colonialism.
This month, the renaming movement is gaining momentum at Stanford, where a student campaign is taking aim at Father Junipero Serra. The 18th-century Spanish missionary’s name is ubiquitous on campus, but his detractors, backed by the student government, argue the newly sainted Serra — whose role in the assimilation and exploitation of Native Americans added controversy to his canonization last year — should not have dorms, halls or streets named after him.
It is “important for the university to recognize that we need to reinvest and reappropriate these spaces in the names of indigenous people,” said Leo John Bird, a Stanford junior from the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana, who has pressed for the changes.
Students from UC Berkeley, Amherst, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown and many other campuses in the past year have started similar campaigns — and the results are starting to show.
The movement “has now reached the fulcrum moment where it is going to start rolling downhill and taking everything with it,” said Alfred Brophy, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and an expert in reparations history and law who has been observing the trend.
A Harvard Law committee this month recommended the school ditch an unofficial seal bearing the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr., an early donor who got rich from the slave trade. Amherst trustees in January voted to drop “Lord Jeff,” the school’s unofficial mascot inspired by Lord Jeffery Amherst, the 18th-century British army officer for whom the town was named — and who suggested that smallpox be used as a weapon against Native Americans.
The shootings at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last June moved Yale’s leaders to consider renaming a residential college named after John C. Calhoun, a statesman and vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. In a speech in August, Yale President Peter Salovey said Calhoun, an 1804 Yale graduate, “mounted the most powerful and influential defense of his day for slavery.”
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SOURCE: Katy Murphy
Bay Area News Group / Mercury News