STANFORD (KPIX 5) – Officials at Stanford University are moving forward with plans to strip Father Junipero Serra’s name from several key locations on campus.
However, the founder of California’s mission system won’t be vanishing entirely.
In the three years since the Catholic Church made Father Junipero Serra a saint, the drumbeat of criticism and the questions about his treatment of Native Americans have largely died down.
One exception is the Stanford campus where — at the speed of academia — the university is just now responding to the controversy. Officials are stripping Serra’s name from several campus buildings including Serra Mall at the entrance to the main quad.
“Is it valid to feel like somebody shouldn’t be honored if he committed crimes?” asked Stanford student Jonas Metzger.
Descendants of Native Americans in the mission system say their ancestors were — in essence enslaved — forced to convert to Christianity and punished severely, including whippings, if they didn’t follow the rules.
In a statement about the decision, the university said, “…the historical record confirms that the mission system inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans.”
The university has announced plans to re-name the mall after Jane Stanford, the wife of the school’s founder and critical figure in its early success.
“If she really was that instrumental, I think that’s a really great step,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “I mean not only are you taking down a name that’s controversial, you’re also making a statement now.”
The university will remove Father Serra’s name from a dorm and an academic building. The street that bears his name will remain, a compromise for a complicated historical figure.
“Naming a building after someone or putting up a statue of someone is not just remembering them — it’s honoring him,” said Metzger. “If you want to remember someone, put it in the textbooks. Discuss the good stuff and the bad stuff that happened.”