Renaming our campus: Students push for Linnaeus Arboretum name change

The Linnaeus Arboretum has been a beloved part of campus to Gustavus students, staff and visitors for over forty years. The arboretum was given its namesake in 1988 after Carl Linneaus, a Swedish botanist known for creating the binomial nomenclature: the modern system of naming organisms. Linnaeus also is known for normalizing classification of human races, and thus has been given the title ‘Father of Scientific Racism.’
Over the summer, students may have caught wind of a petition going around online via Google forum regarding the title of the Linnaeus Arboretum. Started by The Radicals and later joined by a performance project from last year’s Social Justice Theatre Program, students on the Gustavus Campus have been reaching out to The Board of Trustees in an effort to rename the Linnaeus Arboretum.
“People have known that this has been an issue for a long time, but after the events of this summer… that’s what really prompted The Radicals to do something,” Co-Facilitator and Senior Signe Jeremiason said.
“We want to get it across that as the Gustavus community, we do not stand for racism in any form,” Social Justice Theatre student and Sophomore Annie Lind said.
Current student actions include the creation of an Instagram account (@linnaeusnomore1) and the aforementioned petition. There has also been communication with The Board of Trustees as to how Gustavus would go about this potential process of renaming both the Arboretum and future buildings and sites on campus.
“The Board of Trustees owns the process of renaming,” Gustavus President Rebecca Bergman said.
There currently exists a policy and guideline for naming Gustavus property, but it would not be the same as a renaming process. The work done by students so far has sparked a conversation among campus and The Board of Trustees, and this year’s institutional goals reflect that conversation.
“The board has approved an institutional goal for the college, this year, to create a renaming policy and associated process. Enough conversation has not been in place to even come up with a draft yet, but I am confident that [the Board of Trustees] will not come up with an executive decision without thorough conversation and investigation,” Bergman said.
When it comes to the hypothetical renaming of the arboretum itself, several different ideologies are at play.
“Nearly all of the other names in the [Arboretum] are more directly related to Gustavus than Linnaeus is. For example, the Melva Lind Interpretive Center is named for a Gustavus dean and professor…The Jim Gilbert Teaching Pond was named after the second Executive Director of the Arboretum. To me, it would make sense for the arboretum itself to follow this naming pattern, instead,” Junior Sara Cronk said.
“We believe it gives a chance to celebrate an individual much closer to Gustavus history and values,” Lind said.
“The Radicals are advocating for a neutral name, in accordance with indigenous values. A name is a symbol, and we all know that symbols have power,” Jeremiason said.
As for the actual process, it will take time and dedication.
“Research all that you can. We want individuals to make informed opinions and decisions on this matter,” Lind said.
For Bergman, these events resonate with the core values of Gustavus itself.
“As a liberal arts institution, we value studying a question, looking at all perspectives related to a question, and approaching it with openness to ideas and discussions. We try not to approach these decisions in a way that reaches the answer before we can even ask the questions,” Bergman said.
“That’s true for how we want students, teachers and the board to approach questions in general. We’re being consistent with the value we place on critical thinking here at Gustavus,” Bergman said.
Students can find more information through the Linneaus No More Instagram page, as well as share their thoughts with the President’s Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
“The council, which I am personally involved with, is currently a holding place for community perspectives, and a meaningful spot for individuals to share their perspectives,” Bergman said.