A Yale alum weighs in on why she’s celebrating the decision to rename Calhoun College
I graduated from Yale University in 2006, and I couldn’t be happier to hear the news that my alma mater decided to revoke the title “Calhoun College” named after a white supremacist, and to honor the namesake of an innovative, brilliant female alumna, instead.
I felt a sense of hope and expectation on Saturday as I opened the e-mail sent by our university’s president, Peter Salovey. In his letter addressed to the Yale Alumni Community, Salovey announced Yale’s decision to rename Calhoun College, one of the twelve residential colleges that currently house the university’s undergraduate population:
“we will honor one of Yale’s most distinguished graduates, Grace Murray Hopper ’30 M.A., ’34 Ph.D, by renaming the college for her…the decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a “positive good” fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values.”
Amen to that. To the naysayers who are claiming that the decision to rename Calhoun College was “too politically correct” I say: absolutely not.
John C. Calhoun was one of the most prolific defenders of slavery and white supremacy in American history, infamously calling the institution a “positive good.” Calhoun distinguished himself because of his racist views, not in spite of them.
Specifically, as vice president of the United States, Calhoun used his power to expand racist rhetoric. He strengthened the political clout of slave owners, and was a proud champion of the view that blacks were not equal and would always be subservient to whites. Such a leader has no place being honored or spotlighted in one of our nation’s universities—not to mention anywhere else.
Members of Yale’s community who expressed concern that the university’s history would be lost or slowly erased after the decision to rename Calhoun College was announced, need not worry. A thorough and analytical approach was undertaken to make this decision, and a precedent for future cases was outlined, as well.
To aid in the process of deciding to rename Calhoun College, the university established the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. The directives ensure that a thoughtful and instructive process will occur in the event of any future re-naming initiatives. One of the principles examines whether a namesake’s legacy fundamentally conflicts with the university’s mission. In the case of John C. Calhoun, it is clear to see that his personal actions readily conflicted with Yale’s values.
Grace Murray Hopper’s contributions, on the other hand, were outstanding and reflected a life of service. Hopper was a trailblazing computer scientist, a brilliant mathematician and teacher, and a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. At a university where not only blacks, but also women and other minorities are still not intrinsically represented in the fabric of the campus, naming one of Yale’s residential colleges after a distinguished woman is an excellent choice.
The famous media personality, Geraldo Rivera, announced on Sunday that he was resigning as an associate fellow at Yale, calling the university’s decision “intolerant” and saying that “political correctness is lame.”
The decision to cease honoring a champion of slavery is not mere political correctness. It changes the entire climate of the residential college and campus as a whole. It is a welcome breath of fresh air. It sends a clear message: inequality is not tolerated or celebrated here.
Furthermore, John C. Calhoun was not simply a portrait hanging on a wall or a name inscribed on a plaque of donors. John C. Calhoun was the name of a foundational residential college, and as such, honoring this individual any longer would be morally wrong, not to mention hurtful and oppressive to African Americans in the Yale community and beyond.
Not surprisingly, it was Yale students who led the charge to rename Calhoun College in the first place. In their petition to change the name of the college, they wrote, “Calhoun College represents an indifference to centuries of pain and suffering among the black population.”
Yale University, as one of the world’s top educational institutions, has a duty to be a leader in promoting equal rights. That starts with creating an environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and encouraging to all people. The decision to rename Calhoun College is a step in the right direction.
The author is a writer and a graduate of Yale University (TC ’06).
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