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College strips name ‘Linnaeus’ from its 125-acre arboretum, citing ‘scientific racism’

Gustavus Adolphus College argues move builds ‘an inclusive and just community’

Gustavus Adolphus College has removed the name of prominent scientist Carl Linnaeus from the title of its arboretum, citing “scientific racism” as the motivation behind the move.

The college also moved his bust, which had been displayed outside the arboretum’s Melva Lind Interpretive Center since 1988, into storage.

The Board of Trustees at the private college in Minnesota made the final decision to ax the name after pressure from activists, the college announced Oct. 12.

“Gustavus has historically sought to build an inclusive and just community. In recent years, and especially since George Floyd’s murder, we have strengthened our efforts to pay attention to underrepresented voices and discovered how painful Linnaeus’ name and legacy are for some of our students and visitors,” board Chair Scott Anderson said in the announcement.

“Changing the name of the arboretum is an important step in welcoming all to the Gustavus campus and in becoming a community of thoughtful discernment committed to working for a more just world.”

The college did not respond to requests from The College Fix seeking comment on whether officials received feedback or faced criticism over the decision.

Founded in 1973, the arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, was named after 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus, who is known as the Father of Taxonomy and who is credited with developing the current system of scientific classification.

The school adopted the “Linnaeus Arboretum” in 1988 to recognize Linnaeus for both his scientific achievements and Swedish heritage. Gustavus was founded by Swedish-Lutheran immigrants in 1862.

But in 2018, a group of students first approached the college over concerns for the arboretum bearing Linnaeus’ name, the college stated on its website, noting: “In recent years, Linnaeus’ writings on human taxonomy have come under scrutiny as an example of scientific racism based on his classification and description of human varieties in his seminal work, Systema Naturae.”

Scientific racism holds that there are biological grounds for the existence of inferior and superior races. Critics claim that Linnaeus endorsed this belief by dividing people into four types, assigning negative qualities to people of color.

In 2020, Linnaeus was also accused of scientific racism when graduate student Taylor Tai of the University of Wisconsin-Madison petitioned the Entomological Society of America to rename its Linnaean Games, an annual trivia competition. Tai succeeded and the society’s contest became known as the Entomology Games.

The College Fix reached out to the Linnean Society of London for comment on the recent controversy surrounding Linnaeus’ work.

“We are very aware of Linnaeus’ legacy and role in the birth of scientific racism,” Dr. Isabelle Charmantier, head of collections at the society, told The College Fix in an email Monday.

“We are therefore committed to provide as much light as possible on Linnaeus’ role in the birth of scientific racism, but cannot comment on other institutions’ decision to remove Linnaeus’ names from prizes, etc.,” Charmantier said.

At Gustavus, a student organization called The Radicals renewed the effort to rename the Linnaeus Arboretum in the summer of 2020 by creating an online petition. Students, faculty and staff again approached the college, leading President Rebecca Bergman to bring the issue to the Gustavus Adolphus Board of Trustees, said the college.

A body called the Linnaeus Deliberation Circle prepared reports for the board. The process involved “robust conversations, collaboration with outside experts including Swedish historians on Linnaeus and the co-founder of the Arboretum, and careful consideration of how various groups may be impacted by the name,” the college said.

The Board of Trustees voted at its Sept. 2021 meeting to remove “Linnaeus” from the name of the arboretum, adopting the new title “The Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College.”

The award-winning and popular arboretum covers roughly 125 acres and features natural spaces that represent Minnesota’s biomes.

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About the Author
Margaret Peppiatt - Franciscan University of Steubenville