In David Starr Jordan Middle School’s auditorium on Wednesday, nearly 80 people debated the merits of whether the campus should change the name it’s held for 71 years.
The majority of the attendees spoke of “discrimination” and “racism” when mentioning Jordan, who was the first president of Stanford University and a scientist who studied fish. He was also a proponent of eugenics, the system of controlled breeding aimed to improve the chances of so-called desirable heritable characteristics.
From 1910 up until 1964, 20,000 people considered less-than-desirable, such as minorities and people with mental disabilities, were forcibly sterilized in California due, in part, to the philosophy of eugenics.
Jordan’s defenders countered that the man, who died in 1931, was quite accomplished and misunderstood.
The debate was held during the second meeting of Burbank Unified’s facilities-naming committee.
The 11-member panel of residents, educators, administrators, alumni and one current student listened to arguments as they considered what recommendation – for or against a name change – to make to the Burbank Unified school board.
Committee chair Charlene Tabet, also a Burbank Unified board member, said at the conclusion of the 2-hour-50-minute meeting that a third gathering will be necessary, though no date was set.
Those who participated Wednesday, however, spoke with urgency as 23 were in favor of a change, five were against, while three added comments or questions.
Maybe no one spoke as passionately to do away with the Jordan name as Burbank City Council candidate Konstantine Anthony, who wore a shirt that read “Ask an Autistic” and who volunteered to “tear down” Jordan’s name from the school.
“The kids at my middle school used the ‘R’ word to describe me because I am autistic,” Anthony said before speaking about his son. “There’s a little kid watching a YouTube video back there, and he’s autistic, too, and if this man was alive today, I would have been sterilized when I was younger, and he wouldn’t be here.”
Burbank resident and actress Farelle Walker said Jordan wasn’t someone to be admired.
“We sit here with a man’s name plastered in a position that means we should look to him for what is right, when, in fact, he stands for what is undeniable wrong,” she said.
Burbank resident Paula Morris, a Jordan alumna and former student body treasurer, was a strong Jordan defender as she spoke during the first and second public-comment sections.
“There is no reason or information that is well-documented to convict this man after more than 100 years,” Morris said. “And remember he died [in 1931] well in advance of Hitler ever becoming known as a leader.”
Hitler had been elected leader of the Nazi Party in 1921, but did not become German chancellor until 1933.
Richard McMillan, a history instructor at Los Angeles Pierce College and another Jordan alumnus, was also against a name change.
“History should be looked at through a clear piece of glass, warts and all, but we should also celebrate the victories that we have had as well as recognizing the failures,” McMillan said.
He said that if Jordan name was dropped, then perhaps schools named after slave holders, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, should also be considered, as well as Abraham Lincoln, who, according to McMillan, was more concerned about “preserving the union” than slaves; William McKinley, an imperialist; and Thomas Edison, who McMillan said was possibly an anti-Semite.
One issue raised by committee member Elena Hubbell was the price of a name change.
John Paramo, the district’s director of secondary education, estimated the cost would be between $75,000 and $100,000 to replace several items, including industrial floor mats, a stain glass window, front signage and marquee as well as murals, a bench, gym signage and the gym floor.
While various names were given as a possible replacement — from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Barbara Jordan — this committee’s purpose was to first decide if a name change is warranted, according to Tabet.
Should the committee make a recommendation at its next meeting, school board members could hold a public hearing and ultimately vote on the issue.