SAN JOSE, Calif. -- At universities across the country, centuries-old names that adorn buildings, streets and squares are under siege -- from Stanford's Serra Mall to the University of California, 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, Mont., 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, S.C., 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."
UC Berkeley did not agree to change the name of Barrows Hall to honor the Black Panther Party revolutionary Assata Shakur, as the Black Student Union demanded last year. But last week the school revealed senior campus officials were conducting a "comprehensive assessment of all of the building names" on campus.
Stanford is about to undertake a similar review. The president and provost have announced a new committee led by history Professor Emeritus David Kennedy to set principles for campus names.
"Not all of those names are names of people that have unblemished histories," Provost John Etchemendy told the Faculty Senate this month. "So we want to be able to apply the principles, not just to the Serra name but to other names to determine whether or not they should be changed."
Not everyone agrees with the rush to rename. Some critics argue that the offending figures -- living in the norms of decades or centuries past -- are unfairly being held up to modern standards.
Serra wasn't perfect, but "it seems incredibly harsh to judge him by these exact moral standards that we hold today," said Stanford student Harry Elliott, who is Catholic.
Renaming buildings won't fix the problems facing minority students on college campuses, but it is a powerful step nonetheless, said Anthony Williams, a UC Berkeley sociology major from Vacaville.
"How do we make spaces inclusive in a university system that was never meant to include us?" he asked.
Williams, who is African-American, and fellow student Bradley Afroilan, who is Filipino-American, created an art installation outside of Barrows Hall to bring attention to the debate -- and to David Prescott Barrows, an anthropologist whose book about the Philippines, published in 1905, referred to its people as "little savages."
His name, as students point out, is on a hall housing the university's ethnic studies department.
"We have this building named after this person who depicts us as below-human," Afroilan said. "Here at Berkeley, we're still trying to find a way to make this the public university it's supposed to be."
Even if Berkeley agrees to take Barrows' name off the hall, it is unlikely to rename the building after Shakur, a former Black Panther who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper before escaping prison and fleeing to Cuba. Williams said he would welcome the name of black scholars from Berkeley, among others.
The renaming campaigns are playing out within larger, decadeslong efforts led by minority students and faculty to make college campuses more diverse and welcoming -- and to infuse new perspectives into a traditionally white, Eurocentric curriculum.
But it's not only colleges that are grappling with tainted legacies. Last year, a 13-year-old at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto started a petition to change his school's name after writing a book report on the school's namesake, Stanford founding President David Starr Jordan, and discovering his belief in eugenics.
The Palo Alto Unified school board voted last month to form a committee to review the names of all the district's schools.
Still, some say that campuses shouldn't try to scrub away their oppressive pasts by erasing names or moving offensive busts -- including those of some of our nation's founding fathers -- out of view.
"If I were a college administrator," Brophy said, "the first thing I'd do is take down all of the names of the slave owners: 'Hey, we solved that problem. We've checked that box. We've gotten rid of racism on campus. Next up, the fraternity problem.'"
The challenge for colleges is to find "the most appropriate way to acknowledge and come to terms with the sins of the past," said Beverly Tatum, who for 13 years served as president at Spelman College, the historically black liberal arts school for women in Atlanta.
"The foundation of our nation was built on the oppression of indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans," Tatum said. "That is painful history for all of us."