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Serra Street

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An old, black and white photograph of the Main Quad, with the Oval in the foreground, and the hills in the background.
View of Stanford University Oval and Quadrangle from the Stanford Museum roof around 1905. Serra Street is visible at the front of the Main Quad.

Serra Street, which runs from this roundabout at Campus Drive East to El Camino Real, is named after Father Junipero Serra (1713–1784), who founded the California mission system. The system, a series of religious outposts created between 1769 and 1833, was established under Spanish rule and played a significant role in California’s history. It is understood today as having contributed to the destruction of the cultural, economic, and religious practices of indigenous communities. The Stanford University campus is located within the traditional territory of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.

Critical Reflection

In 2016, citing the harmful impacts of the mission system on Native Americans, the Associated Students of Stanford University passed resolutions asking the university to rename features bearing Serra’s name. The Faculty Senate followed, calling for a critical reflection. A university committee was appointed to craft general principles for renaming and another applied those principles to the case of features named for Serra. The committees met with diverse stakeholders, conducted historical research, and considered the educational impact of the issue. The renaming committee analyzed Serra’s multifaceted legacy, weighing his “piety and good intentions” against the harmful impacts of the mission system he led, and found that features named for Serra were in tension with Stanford’s goal of full inclusion.

In September 2018, Stanford announced that the Board of Trustees had accepted the committee’s recommendation to rename Serra Mall, Serra House in Stern Hall, and Serra House on Capistrano Way. They also accepted the committee’s recommendation to retain the name of Serra Street. Although there is no personal connection between Serra and the university, the committee determined that Stanford’s founders deliberately chose his name to highlight elements of California history that they felt would differentiate their new university, and that removing all references to Serra would erase a part of the university’s history.

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Last updated September 15th, 2020