The fight to scrub the legacy of Serranus Hastings from the San Francisco law school named after him has gone to the California State Assembly in the form of AB 1936. The bill has passed the initial vote and moved on to the appropriations committee.
The bill was brought forward by Assemblyman James C . Ramos, the first Native American elected to the California State Assembly, who worked with the Round Valley Indian Tribe and members of the Yuki Committee to bring tribal voices into the discussion of the future of UC Hastings.
If fully passed, the bill would force the renaming of the law school along with the institution of restorative justice initiatives to initiate healing between the school and victimized tribes.
As California’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme County, Hastings’s name was understandably given to one of the state’s prestigious law schools.
In 2021, a New York Times article brought forward that Hastings, before he became a California State Supreme Court justice, financed and recruited armed militia to massacre Yuki natives in northeastern Mendocino County
In light of the revelations and national conversation about the college’s namesake, the Board of Directors directed the administration to immediately pursue changing the college’s name.
In a press release, Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings David Faigman said, “The time has come to recognize that changing the College’s name is an important step in that process. I am committed to working diligently to do so.”
Nickole Whipple, a member of the Yuki Committee working with Assemblyman Ramos and the UC Hastings administration to change the university’s name, said despite UC Hastings’s initial plans to rename, the university went ahead without collaborating with the tribes they were working to honor.
Instead, the school pushed for changing the school’s name to University of California, San Francisco Law School. which Whipple argued shows “negligence on their part in understanding the California Indian History in whole as the Indigenous people in the area the college sits and all of California Tribes have been equally harmed by the Mission System.”
She told us “We want a Yuki Language name to honor our lost culture and to encourage community efforts in revitalizing this language by using it every day.”
The Yuki committee is proposing the name “Powen’om”, meaning “one people”, to honor the native people lost because of Hastings’ policies.
On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, Assemblyman Ramos hosted a press conference that brought together members of the Yuki Committee, leaders of the Round Valley Indian Tribe, and administrators of UC Hastings to discuss the origins and goals of AB 1936.
Assemblyman Ramos said the bill would require UC Hastings to work with Yuki and Round Valley Indian Tribes “to rename the campus.” The inclusion of the tribe is essential, Ramos argued, because “exclusion of Native Americans from decisions affecting them has been the norm.”
Since the publication of the New York Times article, Ramos said members of the Yuki Committee, a group designated by the Round Valley Indian Tribe to work with UC Hastings administration on the name change, have met with the administration ten times with no concrete results.
The restorative justice provisions proposed by AB 1936 include: 1) providing tribes with assistance to raise capital, obtain legal representation for a variety of community needs 2) Install a memorial on campus to honor the slaughtered Yuki 3) Establishing an Indian Law program 4) Working to preserve the history of the Yuki people 5) Providing financial aid to college-bound Yuki interested in law school. 6) Assisting with the tribe’s ongoing efforts to repatriate artifacts.
UC Hastings Professor of Law Marsha N. Cohen told us she is skeptical of the proposed name change. Any expenditures required to change the university’s name would “take from the funding needed to support those victimized by the school’s namesake.”
Before Hastings’s history was unearthed, Professor Cohen explained the namesake did not conjure the historical figure. “No one thought of the person or what he did. That was just the cheap law school in San Francisco.”
Cohen also questions the claims that Serranus Hastings was responsible for the massacres of the Yuki in the 1850s. A LinkedIn post she composed asserts that Hastings was “wrongly accused of evildoing” with evidence of innocence found in both archival documents and “a sworn affidavit of Hastings himself.”
Professor Cohen gives ground that Hastings “sought assistance from the U.S. Army to protect his livestock, and when none was offered, on behalf of himself and other local settlers he facilitated the Governor’s authorization, under state law, for the formation of a local militia to protect settler property.”
At that point, Cohen states that Hastings returned to his Benicia home while members of the militia, known as the Eel River Rangers, “set about wantonly killing Indians.” These actions resulted in an investigation by the California State legislature where Hastings said under oath the atrocities of Rangers were unknown to him. The California Legislature would conclude Hastings had “no responsibility” for any of the despicable acts perpetrated on the Yuki.
Cohen sees AB 1936 as an opportunity for the State of California to “assuage their guilt” for the state sponsorship of the Eel River Rangers and find a scapegoat in Hastings. “We get to wash our hands”, Cohen says.
Concerns like cost do not sway Assemblymember Ramos. At the press conference, he said, “Rather than just changing the letterhead, my bill is also about making sure the Round Valley and Yuki people feel heard, so their history and suffering are not dismissed. This is a crucial step toward healing a traumatic history and rectifying wrongs that were never remedied.”