We cannot learn from history if we erase it

I took a walk through campus a couple weeks ago, including walking along the Jordan River. I came to Bloomington in 1993, and have always known the little creek that runs through campus as the Jordan River, not the Campus River. The creek and Jordan Hall were renamed last year, and there are discussions about renaming Jordan Avenue, as well. This is deeply misguided.

David Starr Jordan was a proponent of eugenics, a movement that was unfortunately popular a century ago. Tens of thousands of people were sterilized against their will, and many more were sterilized in a deceptive manner and only realized later what had been done to them. This was a wicked practice and a source of deep shame for our nation.

Jordan had significant academic accomplishments as a “premier ichthyologist” and served as the first President of Stanford University. While in Bloomington, he increased enrollment, faculty, and “introduced the major department system.” Naming an academic building and a creek after Jordan was not to honor his support for eugenics, but what he did to build the university. Keeping Jordan’s name would have given the university the opportunity to educate the university community about eugenics and why it was wrong.

By removing Jordan’s name, IU sweeps that under the rug and misses an important opportunity to teach this lesson: That people can do important things worth honoring while also holding abhorrent beliefs. Keeping Jordan’s name is not an endorsement of his beliefs, but an opportunity to repudiate them while acknowledging his work on behalf of Indiana University and his scientific accomplishments. It is sad that a major research university would miss this opportunity to further our historical knowledge.