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PC Campus Culture
A New Target in the Renaming Wars

The elite campus renaming wars of 2015-2016 have jeopardized the standings of many once-powerful men: Lord Jeffrey Amherst is no longer the mascot of Amherst College, two former Georgetown University Presidents were booted off campus buildings, and John Calhoun and Woodrow Wilson are in trouble at Yale and Princeton, respectively. Now Stanford students have picked a new, and somewhat more unlikely target: Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan priest who erected missions across California and was recently canonized by Pope Francis. The Stanford Daily reports:

… Leo Bird ’17, who wrote the bill to rename Stanford property, explained that his resolution was a means of igniting a conversation about the individuals memorialized by Stanford. In particular, Serra is alleged to be associated with the deaths of many Native Americans in California during the Mission Era.

… “The conversation should be centered around what these people mean to us in this day and age and what it means for our individual histories,” Bird said. “It should be initiated on the Stanford campus. If we name buildings after people who directly contributed to genocide, that perpetuates the historical trauma, [and] it does harm to my wellness, and Stanford has the obligation to care for its students.”

As we’ve said before, while calls to discard certain monuments and symbols often go hand-in-hand with some of the more authoritarian tactics we have seen from campus activists we’ve seen recently, such efforts are not inherently unhealthy or illiberal. Institutions can and sometimes do reckon productively with their history by engaging in robust public debate about the significance of symbols and iconography.

That said, the push to oust Junipero Serra shows that the renaming crusades can also become totally unmoored from any kind of genuine public reasoning or historical debate. There is a middle-ground, somewhere, between stubborn resistance to changing institutions in all cases, and a Jacobin-style drive to purge the past because it conflicts with current political sensibilities. The type of quasi-therapeutic language employed by the student quoted above to support his argument—”trauma,” “wellness,” “care”—is a tip-off that this push is driven more by a kind of free-floating hypersensitivity that could be applied to anything even marginally offensive rather than by any narrow and principled argument.

American history is filled with characters, like Serra, who accomplished great things despite occasional missteps and follies. (In Serra’s case, those missteps basically amount to participating in the Spanish missionary project, which was sometimes coercive, yes, but which also had an indelible impact on the development of the American West—and though some criticize Serra for his practices and links to oppression, others have said “he protected our people and supported their full human rights against the politicians and the military.”) Any political movement that starts to demand total perfection and purity from historical figures, rather than processing and trying to understand their imperfections, is veering into dangerous territory—and one day, more likely than not, will turn on itself.

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  • Jim__L

    “Jacobin-like” is a bit awkward. There’s already a verb meaning “to revise to suit present-day sensibilities”.

    It’s “Bowdlerize”.

    • gabrielsyme

      I’m going to have to go with “Stalinist”.

  • Fat_Man

    The lunatics are in charge of the asylums. They are making a good case for draining these intellectual malaria swamps.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Then dynamiting the ruins

      • gabrielsyme

        Those endowments could be used for much better purposes than destroying Western civilisation from within!

        • f1b0nacc1

          those endowments would be better spent on giving the administrators an endless supply of cocaine and hookers than what they are used on now

          • gabrielsyme

            Well said, my friend, well said.

  • johngbarker

    Somebody tell me why we call these intellectual fog factories “elite”.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Let’s go whole hog on this thing and do it all at once. Let’s go after the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and every single town and city in California that starts with “San”. Then, of course, there is Los Angeles. The entire southwest is full of these references. How about Corpus Christi, Texas?

    Let’s not let this thing happen in dribs and drabs. Go after it all at once and create the backlash it deserves.

    Time to end this Papist conspiracy and put these Hispanics in their place. /SARC

    Hey…Russia renamed Stalingrad and Leningrad….

    • Jim__L

      Remember when there was that big push to de-Frankify the language? I wonder what the good people of Wyoming (who are justly proud of their national parks) would have thought of that, if it we’d gone whole hog…

  • Beauceron

    Who cares?

    This is just the beginning. It is going to get far worse than re-naming a few university buildings.

    This is what happens when you change the demographics and thereby change the culture. But that change as happened and is only going to get more pronounced in the coming decades.

    This is what you wanted. Don’t complain about it now that it’s arrived.

  • qet

    Excellent! Now the issue with Hispanics can finally be joined. That issue being the following. When Hispanics allege their various racial grievances and “marginalization” in the US (i.e., by the dominant Anglo politico-economic culture), from what racial ancestry are they claiming their oppressed status? Which particular ethnicity are Anglos supposed to be bigoted against and and oppressive toward? If their Spanish ancestry, then they are complaining about one white European ethnicity (Spanish) being oppressed by another (Anglo),and that hardly smacks of “social injustice” seeing that Spain had its moment of global mastery and lost it, is the historical loser vis-a-vis colonization of the North American continent north of Mexico. If their indigenous American ancestry, then their complaint is not with, or far less with, Anglos, who did nothing to them, but with the Spanish, who colonized them and exploited and eradicated them and etc etc etc.; they have suffered far more at the hands of Spain than of Anglo America, and ought to point their grievance bullhorn in that direction. Their indigenous American ancestors were not indigenous to the North American continent north of Mexico, so how can they have any claims on that basis?

    So I have no problem with acceding to the Stanford student’s demand. But I wonder if La Raza will object. La Raza. The race. Which race, exactly?

  • C. Clifford

    Saint Junípero Serra, pray for us!

  • Gene

    Do you know how many world cultures of the 16th century were absolutely brutal by our standards? ALL OF THEM. Even among the most enlightened people of that era, anywhere in the world, there were few people who did not hold some attitudes or condone some practices that would be considered barbaric by ordinary people today (and would send SJWs to the fainting couch). The depredations visited upon native Americans would have been essentially the same had some entirely different group colonized these two continents.

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