Monday Moments with President Bergman: October 18, 2021Gustavus President Rebecca M. Bergman shares her thoughts with College students, faculty, and staff each week.
Posted on October 18th, 2021 by

President Rebecca M. Bergman

Last Tuesday, the Gustavus Board of Trustees announced a decision to change the name of the arboretum from the “Linnaeus Arboretum” to “The Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College.” This decision followed a lengthy and thorough process of deliberation that included campus stakeholders, historical perspectives, and Board conversations. Carl Linnaeus, an 18th-century Swedish botanist, is best known for creating a classification system for all living things  both plants and animals  that is still used today. His classification of humans (Homo sapiens) into four “varieties” became, over time, one of the origins of scientific racism. While the word “race” has not been found in any of Linnaeus’s writing, he based his four “varieties” of humans on geography, skin color, and perceived physical and moral characteristics. Linnaeus’s classification of humankind was interpreted by contemporaries and others who followed him as suggesting a hierarchy of human beings.

Included in the Board’s decision-making process was a discussion about next steps in understanding Linnaeus’ legacy and educating our community about the connection between his important contributions to science as well as the complex influence he had on the world’s understanding of stereotypes concerning skin color and equity among all people. Linked to the renaming of the arboretum was the question of the placement of the Linnaeus bust  a bronze sculpture designed and created by Gustavus sculptor Paul Granlund ’53 that was located near the Interpretive Center. The sculpture has been temporarily placed in storage. Our next step is to assemble a campus group that will bring forth a recommendation around a new location for the bust and educational materials that will allow a more complete understanding of Linnaeus and his work. As Board Chair Scott Anderson ’89 said in the release, “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.”

Among the media coverage of last week’s announcement, an editorial by the Mankato Free Press stood out to me as one that captured the essence of the Board of Trustees decision:

Changing the name of the arboretum does not eradicate the legacy, mostly of good but also of some ill, of Carl Linnaeus. It does not change the beauty and the educational mission of the arboretum. It does reflect what the college chooses to honor, and what we choose to honor out of history can and should change with time and shifting interpretations.

Gustavus has a living connection to Sweden that is a very important part of our history and our present time. This week highlights that rich relationship with Sweden. Tonight, the Department of Scandinavian Studies’ Out of Scandinavia Artist-in-Residence Program includes a film screening and lecture by Swedish author and filmmaker Lawen Mohtadi. Nominations are also open for the 2021 Festival of St. Lucia, one of our longest standing Swedish traditions. Part of this living connection is continuing to understand this important relationship which is a defining part of who we are.

This week, while we continue to enjoy lovely fall weather, find the time to take a walk in the Arb. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of fall and the quiet beauty of nature.

Yours in community,

President Bergman


Comments are closed.