Cu | Stanford should rename Wilbur Hall

June 25, 2024, 10:36 p.m.

Last year, I was a resident of Wilbur Hall under Otero, the four-class public service & civic engagement themed dorm. Throughout my time at Otero, we were constantly reminded of our privilege as Stanford students and the various ways that our institution has contributed to oppression and inequality both locally and worldwide. I was encouraged to think critically about how to create more inclusive and representative spaces with Lulu Miller’s book “Why Fish Don’t Exist,” which was included in my class’s annual Three Books program. As a frosh, I never knew that the namesake of my dormitory complex had a similar history to the same eugenicist that this institution actively distanced itself from.

Ray Lynman Wilbur — who graduated from Stanford in 1896, got his M.A. in 1897 and served as Stanford’s president from 1916-1943 — was a eugenicist who feared the expansion of various ethnic groups in the United States, including Asian immigrants.

Who exactly was Ray Lyman Wilbur? A lifelong friend of Herbert Hoover, a politician in his own right and the University’s longest serving president, Stanford Magazine referred to Wilbur as “the doctor-president who made Stanford better” in 2016. The Iowa-native also served as the U.S. secretary of the interior and is cited with changing the department’s logo from an eagle to a bison. Wilbur’s reputation included his public health advocacy — an interest that led him to support the eugenics movement and eugenics education at Stanford and across the country. Specifically, he chaired a study that strongly discouraged interracial marriages and reproduction for Asian immigrants, worried that the Chinese population would overtake the white one.

Mirroring the removal of David Starr Jordan from University campus spaces for his leadership in the American eugenics movement, I am calling on Stanford to do the same for Ray Lynman Wilbur. 

Wilbur hall was built in the 1940s to honor the former University president. Located at 658 Escondido Rd, the originally male-only student dormitory provides housing for over 700 students and related community members. Some notable figures who lived at Wilbur include former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer ’59, actress and producer Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Clinton, whose arrival in 1997 caused a media frenzy on campus. Today, Wilbur is home to several frosh, upperclass and University theme houses as a part of the Sequoia and Hyperion neighborhoods. In the 2024-2025 academic year, Sequoia will represent the entirety of the undergraduate dormitory complex. 

Among Wilbur’s eight different houses is Okada, the Asian American theme house established in 1971. Originally named Madera, the dormitory was renamed to honor Asian American novelist John Okada after it adopted the ethnic theme. The dorm is used by both residents and non-residents as a historic Asian and Asian American cultural center, a shared space to organize political action and a venue to host various student-centered events.

Wilbur Hall is not only home to student housing, but also one of campus’s most popular dining halls. From pho to honey black pepper beef, Wilbur gives students the opportunity to enjoy various Asian cuisines. Stanford’s Lunar New Year Dinner Celebration was also held at Wilbur earlier this academic year.

It is undeniable that Wilbur’s life accomplishments are numerous and far-reaching; however, Stanford’s idolization of him does not discount his involvement with one of the most harmful scientific movements in American history. As a Pilipino American student who enjoys the Asian culture that Wilbur Hall has historically facilitated, it troubles me that the University has continued to honor a eugenicist who did not see the value in Asian communities in the United States. 

Last May, I was shocked to hear that my dining hall, Wilbur, was serving ube ice cream. There was a time when I had to explain what this pretty purple yam was to every non-Pilipinx person I met, but ube has surprisingly emerged in popular American culture. These small moments of representation, whether it be in the dining hall or the classroom, make me feel more welcomed at this institution. However, I find it ironic that the namesake of said dining hall would have likely never welcomed students like me into this university. 

Mark Allen Cu ’26 is the Staff Development & Data Director for The Daily. He is currently studying Education and Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. Contact him at mallencu ‘at’

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