After a petition to change the name of the Robert A. Millikan Hall, Pomona College announced today that it is changing the physics and mathematics building’s name to the Mary Estella and Carlton Seaver Hall, after the parents of the original donor of the building. Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr told the Pomona community that the Nobel Laureate’s involvement in the eugenics movement.
“In recent years, however, troubling information has come into sharper focus regarding Millikan’s role in supporting the deeply disturbing practice of eugenics. He was a trustee of the Human Betterment Foundation, which pushed for laws leading to the forced sterilization of thousands of people. In books and papers, researchers have documented how the American eugenics movement influenced the Nuremberg Laws and the Nazi codification of anti-Semitism in the years leading up to the Holocaust. The reality of Millikan’s support for eugenics confronts us as colleges and universities nationwide are working to come to grips with long-past naming decisions,” Starr wrote in an email.
Frank R. Seaver, a Pomona graduate of the Class of 1905, donated the building in 1958 — along with a series of other science buildings — named for Robert A. Millikan, a Nobel-Prize winning physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in nearby Pasadena, California. The building was rebuilt in 2015.
Earlier this year, a petition spurred the Pomona community to demand a name change. As noted in a previous article, Pomona College’s Carnegie Hall, which houses the Economics and Politics departments, was gifted by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who also was tied to and funded eugenics research. There is currently no movement to change the name of that hall.
After a consultation with certain trustees, faculty — one professor each from the art history, one history, and one mathematics departments — and a Class of 2020 student representative from the student government, the Millikan name will be removed from the building and will be officially named the Mary Estella and Carlton Seaver Hall.
On the new name, Starr wrote that “[a] final question remains: What should the Ms. Mary Estella Seaver and Mr. Carlton Seaver Laboratory be called in day-to-day usage? The easy answer is Seaver East, since it sits across College Avenue from Seaver North and South. However, I may suggest Estella, which derives from the Latin stella (star), a perfect fit for the building that houses physics and astronomy and a place where rigorous inquiry and flourishing for all members of our community remain the guiding lights.”
Students petitioned the California Institute of Technology to change the name of buildings and programs with Robert Millikan’s name. However, this top-tier national university has not changed the names of its buildings, but formed a task force to evaluate a potential change. Millikan was Caltech’s president for over two decades.