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Anonymous flyers prompt discussion on changing name of Jordan Hall



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Slips of papers marked with the words #renameJordan and #decolonizeIU were scattered in classrooms and doors in Jordan Hall on Monday night. The anonymous flyers represent a movement to remove the name of David Starr Jordan from Jordan Hall. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Students and faculty members found slips of papers marked with the words #renameJordan and #decolonizeIU strewn across floors and left in classrooms and doors in Jordan Hall on Monday night.

Scott Michaels, IU professor and associate chair for research in the biology department, said the anonymous flyers represent a movement to remove the name of David Starr Jordan from Jordan Hall.

Each of the papers left in Jordan Hall had facts written on it about Jordan’s contributions to eugenics, the science of improving humans through controlled breeding.

Jordan was an ichthyologist, a scientist who studies fish, and served as the president of IU from 1884 to 1891.

Michaels said he has met with the students who left the flyers, but they wish to remain anonymous at this time.

“It may have kicked the hornet’s nest to get things moving faster, but we need to stop and talk about these things,” Michaels said.

In a series titled “The Blood of the Nation,” Jordan promoted taking people he deemed unworthy out of the gene pool through sterilization. 

Jordan wrote that sterilizing people who had low IQ scores or were mentally ill, weak or disabled in any way kept them from passing down their genes and improved the human species.

Jordan chaired the Committee on Eugenics of the American Breeder’s Association, which created a sterilization program in California between 1909 and 1979. 

Jordan also founded the Human Betterment Foundation, which advocated for legalizing the sterilization of the mentally ill.

According to a 2005 paper by University of Michigan professor Alexandra Stern, 30 states legalized sterilization and sterilized 60,000 people in 70 years. 

Indiana was the first of these states to legalize involuntary sterilization in 1907.

“It’s easy to see those eugenicists as wackadoodles, but people bought into this, not just Jordan,” Michaels, an IU biology professor, said.

Gabriel Zentner, IU associate professor of biology, said Jordan also opposed racial mixing in order to preserve racial purity.

In his biography on Jordan, “David Starr Jordan: Prophet of Freedom,” historian Edward Burns wrote that Jordan once said, “to say that one race is superior to another is merely to confirm the common observation of every intelligent citizen.”

Luke Baker, an IU Ph.D. student studying biology, said he was proud to see many biology professors using the flyers to question Jordan and call out his harmful views.

Sneha Palliyil, another Ph.D. student studying biology, said she thinks the name change will come if they don’t let the conversation die.

Groups including Women’s March Indiana, Btown Justice and Students Against State Violence joined the conversation in support of changing the name by tweeting along with the hashtag #renameJordan throughout the past week.





In March, the Palo Alto Unified School District school board made a unanimous decision to change the name of David Starr Jordan Middle School in California by the 2018-19 school year after Palo Alto residents began criticizing Jordan.

Michaels said he is on the fence about what should be done.

“What do you do with someone like that who’s made great contributions on one hand and was just a bad person on the other hand?” he said. “Do we chisel their names off all the buildings? I don’t know the answer to that.”

He said he also thought there were better ways to bring up the conversation than using anonymous flyers.

He said he also found many flyers in display cases and posted over lab posters. Some of them were left in research labs, which Michaels said was a safety hazard.

Palliyil said the flyers spread the word about the controversy and made changing the legacy Jordan leaves at IU possible.

Baker said the flyers also made many students and faculty members aware of a problem they did not know existed before.

“We would walk into this building every day and have no idea who the man it was named after really was,” Baker said. “We were all blind to it."

Keeping the name of Jordan Hall tells minorities at IU that they are not welcome, Baker said. 

He said the name also requires minority students to work in a building named after a man who did not value their rights.

“The buildings we are doing our work in should be named after people we should follow in the footsteps of. People we respect as scientists and as people. People who would be happy to see us working within the walls of their building,” Baker said.

Baker said he hopes professors will discuss the controversy with their classes and include the history of science related to culture, minority issues and human rights into their curriculums.

Zentner said he would like IU to rename Jordan Hall and put in an exhibit that explains Jordan’s contributions and controversial views, but he said these decisions will all ultimately fall into the hands of IU administration.

Michaels said Jordan was known more for his administrative work at IU and Stanford University, but he was also an influential ichthyologist.

Out of the 12,000 fish species known at the time, Jordan and his students discovered more than 2,500, according to a 1999 University of Washington study.

Jordan’s work also led to a greater understanding of how new species formed through evolution and geographic isolation, according to his biography in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Palliyil said IU can recognize Jordan’s contributions without celebrating them in a public way.

“It’s important to show that who you are as a person has an impact,” she said. “You don’t get to make contributions and be an asshole and be celebrated. That’s not OK.”

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