Stanford University is in a bind between political correctness and historical fact. Two dorms; an academic building; a street (Serra Mall) that fronts Stanford’s historic Main Quad and is the university’s official address; and a major road running through the 8,000-acre campus are all named after Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish-born Franciscan friar who founded the first nine of the 21 California missions. Now Native American and other campus activists are pressuring Stanford to erase from the campus all traces of the padre. Serra, the activists say, brutalized Indians at the missions, covered for Spanish colonization and squelched indigenous culture by converting the Indians to Catholicism.
Stanford administrators have been wringing their hands over all this since March 2016, when the student assembly passed a resolution calling for the renaming of three buildings and a change of the university’s official address. (Stanford doesn’t have the power to rename the Mall, its campus extension, Serra Street, or the bigger public thoroughfare Junipero Serra Boulevard.) The Stanford Graduate Council and the Faculty Senate quickly joined in. The university set up a committee to recommend new names, but after a year and a half of inability to come to a consensus, the committee announced in October that it was giving up and would instead issue guidelines for future deliberations.
That decision didn’t sit well with some students and alumni. One Native American activist called it a “slap in the face.” And indeed Stanford does seem to be missing out on a growing trend of altering campus infrastructure whose original namesakes are no longer in compliance with current notions of political acceptability.
Serra’s nature is open to debate. Once revered in history books as a protector of California Indians against the brutalities of the invading Spanish military — and canonized as a saint by Pope Francis in 2015 — Serra’s reputation has been tarnished by leftist thinking that regards all things Spanish and Catholic in the New World as colonialist oppression.
But that ought to be beside the point. Serra is inextricably intertwined with the history of Stanford University, and the history of California itself. He cannot be easily purged.
Indeed, Serra could be said to have invented the Golden State. The missions that he and his successors founded were the vertebrae that formed the spine of El Camino Real (pretty much coterminous with U.S. 101), the path that connected the missions, most of them separated by just a day’s horseback ride. Every major city in California — San Diego, Los Angeles (thanks to its proximity to San Gabriel), San Jose, San Francisco — lies on the mission trail.
Serra was, if nothing else, a gifted administrator, introducing cattle and wine grapes as staples of California agriculture. (His successor, Father Fermín Lasuén, brought in the first olive trees.) He engaged in constant, well-documented and often fractious turf battles with secular Spanish authorities. And as a matter of aesthetics and lifestyle, California Mission architecture, in a massive revival starting in the 1880s, became the state’s signature building mode, dotting the landscape with thousands of tile-roofed, colonnaded and court-yarded churches, civic buildings, hotels, shopping malls and residences.
Among those caught up in the Mission Revival craze were railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane, the university’s founders, in 1885. The pair weren’t Catholics or even especially religious, but they considered Serra a towering California figure.
El Camino Real runs just outside the front portals of the campus, the couple’s former horse farm in Palo Alto. The Main Quad, part of a master plan designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, imitates Serra’s missions (with some Romanesque touches). Besides the Mall and the boulevard, other campus streets are named after his friar-disciples (Lasuén and Francisco Palóu), as well as José de Gálvez, the inspector general for New Spain who facilitated Serra’s missionary work in Alta California. If the Stanford activists aim to obliterate Serra’s presence from their campus, they’ve got their work cut out for them.
Stanford is free, of course, to rename parts of itself and to pretend that a man revered by its founders never existed. But it can’t make the very foundations of California history go away — and that’s what winning the war against Junipero Serra would require.
Full story at The LA Times.
it was the need for sacramental wine that prompted fr serra to plant grapes that later made california so famous for the finest vineyards in the world.
Years ago when I visited California I visited his “cell”. He certainly lived a very humble life.
If we had real leadership in the US Catholic Church, what should be done is to invite the antagonists of Fr. Serra to a mock-trial debate, putting Fr. Serra “on trial”; a group such as the Thomas More Society, assisted by authentic Mission historians, would provide the defense. Claims and access to evidence by the prosecution would have to be provided to the defense in advance just as in a real trial.
In fact the flimsy actual personal evidence against Serra would be exposed and the Insane Left would be debunked.
We never seem to defend anything. I agree. It would be interesting. However they’re more interested in global warming, immigration, and other social issues.
Robert Spencer was at Stanford two weeks ago. His speech was an attempt to sound the alarm about sharia and jihad threats, i.e., a kind of cultural invasion. But the faculty and students sabotaged his speech because the left thinks Muslims are oppressed and need protection from independent thinkers like Spencer. In short, the leftist loons are putting out the welcome mat for these new invaders from the ME. I bet the Native Americans did just the same in Serra’s day.
As St. Junipero Serra said.
Everyone knows Leland Stanford was filthy rich.
This deeply offends me.
I demand Stanford University change its name
to the less ostentatious “stan.” (lower case)
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