Pomona to rename Millikan Laboratory, citing Robert A. Millikan’s eugenics promotion

White building with steps in front and greenery bordering it
After a petition signed by nearly 1,000 community members, the Robert A. Millikan Laboratory will be renamed. (Lucas Carmel • The Student Life)

Pomona College will rename Millikan Laboratory, President G. Gabrielle Starr announced Tuesday, citing the namesake Robert A. Millikan’s history of eugenics promotion. The announcement comes after nearly 1,000 community members signed a petition over the summer demanding the name be removed.

“In recent years … troubling information has come into sharper focus regarding Millikan’s role in supporting the deeply disturbing practice of eugenics,” Starr said in an email to students. “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.”

Millikan, a Nobel-Prize winning physicist, was a trustee of the Human Betterment Foundation, a California-based organization that promoted involuntary sterilization for those with “feeble-mindedness or mental illness.” The foundation studied 6,255 state-permitted sterilizations, alleging they resulted in “personal,” “social” and “eugenic” benefits. 

The petition also cited racist remarks and Millikan’s actions opposing women in academia as reasons to scrub the building of its name. 

This summer, Starr received counsel from an advisory committee of trustees, faculty and a student representative concerning the naming of buildings “now and in the future,” she said.

The building was built in 1958 as a gift from Frank R. Seaver, a longtime college trustee who graduated from Pomona in 1905. The new namesakes of the building will be Frank Seaver’s parents, Mary Estella and Carlton Seaver, Starr said. All six of Estella and Seaver’s children graduated from Pomona. 

The building will now formally be known as the Ms. Mary Estella Seaver and Mr. Carlton Seaver Laboratory, Starr said.

As for a colloquial name to use for the building, Starr raised multiple options. The building is situated east of Seaver North and South, which Starr said lends itself easily to the name Seaver East. However, Starr proposed the building be casually referred to as Estella.

“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,” Starr said. 

Renovated in 2015, the LEED-certified building has state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories for math, physics and astronomy. It also houses a digital planetarium built from a $1 million loan awarded by the Fletcher Jones Foundation.  

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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