The University of California’s Hastings College of the Law would like a new name, please. The school’s board of directors has authorized David Faigman, the chancellor and dean, to work with the California legislature (since the school is named in state legislation) and stakeholders to be renamed in order to distance themselves from the unfortunate history of genocide.
Back in 2017, John Briscoe, a Distinguished Fellow of the Law of the Sea Institute at UC Berkeley School of Law and an adjunct professor at UC Hastings College of the Law wrote about the problematic actions of both Serranus Hastings and Leland Stanford whose names would go on to be printed on thousands of prestigious law degrees. The men were directly involved in financing Indian hunting expeditions — that is, killing humans for sport — and they were able to amass real estate fortunes as a result:
After 1834… when the native [Californian] population plummeted from 150,000 to 18,000, the cause was different: Indian hunting was sport for the mostly white gold-seekers and settlers. Indian-hunting raids nearly annihilated the population and had the added benefit of ridding the state of those who might assert their land rights, rights guaranteed under international law.
Serranus Clinton Hastings was promoter and financier of Indian-hunting expeditions in the 1850s. Hastings later founded Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, now the oldest law school in the state, and a part of the University of California system.
Leland Stanford solicited volunteers for his Civil War-era army campaigns against California Indians and, as governor, signed into law appropriations bills to fund those killing expeditions. He later founded Stanford University in the name of his son, Leland Stanford Jr. Both Hastings and Stanford had made fortunes in real estate.
Their ability to acquire land titles was facilitated by the massacre of the rightful claimants, a near-extinction they promoted and funded. As UCLA professor Benjamin Madley wrote in his sobering “An American Genocide,” published in 2016 by none other than Yale University Press, both Stanford and Hastings had “helped to facilitate genocide.”
It’s hard to sweep aside such atrocities as relics of a time gone by — we are talking about organized hunts to kill human beings, a move they uniquely benefited from financially. They then turned around and used that money to create legacies such that 150+ years later, generations of law school grads carry some sort of allegiance to those names.
But, as Carl W. “Chip” Robertson, Chair of the Board of Directors, has said, the time has come to end the school’s association with Hastings, a decision they arrived at after a restorative justice process:
“UC Hastings has collaborated with the Yuki People and members of other affected tribes for the last four years in pursuit of restorative justice. The goal of our collaborations with the tribes is to bring the educational resources of the College to help address the generational trauma inflicted by Serranus Hastings. That work has raised our awareness of the wrongs committed by the College’s namesake and the ongoing pain they cause, and our decision is that we can no longer associate our great institution with his name. With this vote, we authorize UC Hastings leadership to work in good faith with legislators and other stakeholders to change our school’s name. We know that some members of our community are attached to the school’s name because of the College’s wonderful 143-year history, unrelated to Serranus Hastings. But this change is a critical step in addressing our founder’s role in Native Californian genocide.”
Since Faigman’s tenure as dean began in 2017, this is an issue he’s been working on:
“Four years ago, I initiated a robust process for engaging Native Californians whose tribes were affected by the deadly acts of Serranus Hastings,” Faigman said. “The time has come to recognize that changing the college’s name is an important step in that process. I am committed to working diligently to do so.”
Other actions the law school has taken as part of the restorative justice effort include:
Founding an Indigenous Law Center and related educational programs.
Exploring experiential educational opportunities for UC Hastings students and those of other UC campuses to provide pro bono assistance to residents of Round Valley.
Discussing educational opportunities for students of the Yuki People and other members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, with possibilities such as a partnership with the College’s prizewinning moot court team, scholarship opportunities, and support for developing historical records of Native People’s experience.
Creating a public memorial to the Yuki people in a prominent location on the UC Hastings campus.
While the naming process is far from over, it’s good to see this key step taken.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).