Gustavus Adolphus College is renaming the campus arboretum so it no longer bears the name of a botanist whose work is an example of scientific racism.
The college's board of trustees made the decision to rename the 125-acre greenspace on campus The Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College, a news release says.
This new name drops the word Linnaeus, after Carl Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish botanist.
Linneaus is known for popularizing the binomial nomenclature system of naming/classifying living things, which many learn about it in school (the genus/generic name and the specific epithet/specific name).
This classification system has been adopted around the world but in recent years Linnaeus' writings on the classification of the human species (human taxonomy) in his 1735 work Systema Naturae have come under scrutiny for being an example of — and laying the groundwork for — scientific racism (read more here).
Scientific racism is a belief that there is evidence to support or justify racial discrimination. And Sapiens states Linnaeus' ideas have helped shape how some think race is a biological fact instead of a social construct.
Gustavus, which was founded by Swedish-Lutheran immigrants, made the decision to remove Linnaeus' name after a "deliberative process" to explore how the college should recognize the scientist's legacy.
The college's arboretum was created in 1973 and named the Linnaeus Arboretum in 1988.
In 2018, a group of students approached college leaders about changing the name due to concerns about Linnaeus' writings, the college says. Then, in the summer of 2020, students, faculty and staff approached the school about the name of the arboretum. The issue was then brought to the board of trustees.
“I’d like to publicly thank the students, faculty, and staff who encouraged the college to reexamine the name of the arboretum and the broad cross-section of our community who engaged in intentional, deliberate, and thorough reflection over the last several months,” Board of Trustees Chair Scott Anderson said in a statement. “The Board of Trustees has made the decision to remove Linnaeus’ name from the arboretum.
"Moving forward, Gustavus will embrace the educational opportunity to tell a more complete history of Carl Linnaeus, examining not only his contributions to science but also the problematic elements of his work," Anderson added.
The college has historically sought to be an "inclusive and just community," and in recent years — especially after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in May 2020 — the college's board of trustees has worked to strengthen efforts to listen to those who are underrepresented, Anderson said.
"We ... discovered how painful Linnaeus’ name and legacy are for some of our students and visitors,." Anderson said. "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."
Meanwhile, the bust of Linnaeus, which was sculpted by Gustavus alumnus Paul Granlund, is no longer on display in the arboretum; it has been temporarily moved to storage. A task force will be named this fall to come up with a new home for the bust.
Gustavus Adolphus College is a private liberal arts college in St. Peter. Its nationally recognized arboretum is free to the public and includes more than 12 formal gardens and natural areas representative of Minnesota's biomes.