University of San Diego

Dear USD Campus Community,

Our vision for the future of USD is to “set the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges.” One pathway leading us forward directs us to expand access and demonstrate inclusive excellence. To accomplish this goal, we need to create and support a welcoming and collaborative community. In recent years, we have done much to advance this work, and we are heartened by our progress. However, it is clear that as a contemporary Catholic university, we must stay attuned to the tension that exists between our history and the insights emanating from the modern world.

One example of that tension is the relationship between our Catholic heritage and the impact of European cultures on the Indigenous Peoples of North America. In a landmark 2015 speech, Pope Francis apologized for the “grave sins” of colonialism against Indigenous Peoples of America. In subsequent messages, the Pope has called for us all to “engage in generous dialogue” and encourage joining forces. The Pope submitted that by doing so “we will end up becoming more aware of the fact that we need each other.”

On our campus, we have been engaging in dialogue for many years about how we acknowledge the history and legacy of the local indigenous tribes, particularly the Kumeyaay Nation, and recognize that our beautiful campus is built on their homelands. We have also had numerous debates and conversations about the history and legacy of Saint Junipero Serra who was canonized by Pope Francis four years ago and for whom a building on our campus is named. The friction between these two dialogues is not easily reconciled, yet our university mission and vision requires us to lean into these discussions with open minds and compassionate hearts.

Last fall, I began a series of conversations with student leaders, faculty, church leaders and our campus tribal liaison about how we might better recognize the rich history of the Kumeyaay Nation on our campus while simultaneously honoring our Catholic heritage. These conversations led to the creation of a working group to determine if we could find a way to accomplish both objectives through the consideration of greater inclusion and diversity in the naming of buildings and gathering spaces on campus. The working group included:

  • Breana Clark, Chair, Graduate Student Council
  • Monsignor Daniel Dillabough, Vice President, Mission and Ministry
  • Persephone Lewis, Professor of Practice, Ethnic Studies and USD Tribal Liaison
  • PJ Murphy, President, American Indian Student Organization (AISO)
  • Natasha Salgado, President, Associated Students
  • Carmen Vazquez, Vice President, Student Affairs
  • Mary Whelan, Executive Director, University Design

In addition to the working group, we consulted with other individuals who offered additional insights into these matters, including Professor Emeritus Dr. Iris Engstrand, who has published widely on the history of this region, Junipero Serra and the mission system in California. I also had a number of discussions with the Bishop of San Diego, the Most Reverend Robert McElroy, who provided wise counsel and advice during our deliberations.

In February, after months of dialogue and discernment, the working group arrived at a consensus that recommended changes to the names of certain spaces on campus. These name changes, approved by the USD Board of Trustees, will be made during the Fall 2019 semester. I will be organizing a task force to guide the implementation of the changes as well as organize appropriate ceremonies and academic symposia.

The USD Board of Trustees officially approved the following:

  • Serra Hall will be renamed Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall in honor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Catholic saint and St. Junipero Serra. Pope Francis’s message earlier this week inspired by the 2018 Synod on Young People refers to the influence of young saints, including St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who “allowed the features of youth to shine forth in all their beauty, and in their day they have been real prophets of change.” It is hoped that by placing these two Catholic saints together, we will recognize that indigenous peoples preceded the Catholic missionaries who settled here. It is also meant to encourage continued dialogue on the important topics of colonialization, the spread of the Catholic faith and the impact both had on Native American populations.
  • The Mission Crossroads facility will be renamed Mata'yuum, which means "gathering place" in Kumeyaay. The renaming honors USD's location in the traditional territory of the Kumeyaay Nation and supports our ongoing tribal initiatives that seek to create a more inclusive campus, while building relationships with local tribal nations. It also builds upon the partnerships we have developed with a number of Kumeyaay nations including the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, and Jamul Indian Village. We would also like to thank Stan Rodriguez, Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Tribal Council Legislator, for providing Mata'yuum as a potential building name.
  • The working group also had conversations about two important Catholic figures who have visited our campus in the past and how we might find ways to recognize their connection to USD. The first is Mother Teresa, now referred to as St. Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized in 2016. The second is Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, the Vietnamese Cardinal and social justice advocate that Pope Francis named as Venerable in 2017, a significant step on the road toward canonization. Recognizing them takes important steps toward strengthening our ties to Tijuana and the work of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa in that community. It also acknowledges the significant Vietnamese Catholic community located in Linda Vista and throughout San Diego. In honor of these two holy people, who literally walked among us on this campus, the Plazas Mayor and Menor in front of the Student Life Pavilion will be renamed for them next fall. An appropriate date and time for the official renaming of these gathering spaces will be determined at a later date.

I wish to thank the working group and the many others who participated in this important dialogue. We came together in a spirit of collaboration, and through civil and generous dialogue, we helped our academic community take steps toward creating a more inclusive campus environment and further our vision of setting the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university.

On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, on the Canadian Feast Day of St. Tekakwitha, we will gather for Mass at noon followed by a brief campus gathering on the Plaza de Colachis to celebrate these changes to our campus.


James T. Harris III, D.Ed.

University of San Diego

Office of the President
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492