Yale University announced over the weekend it will rename its Calhoun College due to its namesake having ties to slave ownership and white supremacy. This reverses Yale President Peter Salovey’s previous announcement that the name would remain, despite student protests calling for a change.
Calhoun College was named after John C. Calhoun, who served as the seventh Vice President of the United States.
“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,” Salovey said.
Students and staff alike celebrated the news over the weekend, the Washington Post reported.
“The minute that the announcement came out, people stuck their heads out of the window and yelled, ‘Wahoo!’ ” said sociology professor Julia Adams.
Lindsey Hogg, a senior, called the decision a victory for the school.
“No matter how you look at this, it’s a win,” she said. “Yale did the right thing, finally.”
In December 2015, amid protests at college campuses across the country, Yale made headlines as students questioned Calhoun’s place on their campus. A petition to change the name garnered thousands of signatures.
Despite student protests, the university in April 2016 announced it had voted to keep the name.
In acknowledging his previous announcement that the college’s name would not change, Salovey said renaming a college is not a decision to be taken lightly. “At that time, as now, I was committed to confronting, not erasing, our history. I was concerned about inviting a series of name changes that would obscure Yale’s past,” he said. “These concerns remain paramount, but we have since established an enduring set of principles that address them. The principles establish a strong presumption against renaming buildings, ensure respect for our past, and enable thoughtful review of any future requests for change.”
Not everyone is happy about the decision. Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News personality, announced his departure from the university via Twitter.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) February 12, 2017
Grace Murray Hopper: A Trailblazer in Mathematics and Computer Science
The college will instead be named after one of Yale’s distinguished graduates, Grace Murray Hopper, a celebrated scientist and mathematician. She earned her master’s degree in mathematics from Yale in 1930 and her Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics from the university in 1934. After teaching mathematics for nearly 10 years she joined the United States Navy Reserve and was commissioned as a lieutenant. Hopper used her mathematical knowledge to fight fascism during World War II.
“As we considered potential namesakes, the trustees and I benefited from hundreds of unique naming suggestions made by alumni, faculty, students, and staff who either advocated for a name change to this college or submitted ideas for the names of the two new residential colleges,” Salovey said. “This community input was indispensable: Hopper’s name was mentioned by more individuals than any other, reflecting the strong feeling within our community that her achievements and life of service reflect Yale’s mission and core values.”
Hopper made strides in the computer science world, during a time when the field was even more dominated by men than today. She played a key role in creating COBOL, which by the 1970s was the most utilized computer language in the world.
After serving as a reservist in the Navy for two decades she returned to active duty at age 60 and retired at age 79 as a rear admiral.
“An extraordinary mathematician and a senior naval officer, Hopper achieved eminence in fields historically dominated by men,” said Salovey. “Today, her principal legacy is all around us — embodied in the life-enhancing technology she knew would become commonplace. Grace Murray Hopper College thus honors her spirit of innovation and public service while looking fearlessly to the future.”
Hopper passed away in 1992 and in 2016 was posthumously awarded the presidential medal of freedom.
— Arlington Cemetery (@ArlingtonNatl) November 18, 2016
Who Was John C. Calhoun?
Calhoun graduated from Yale in 1804. He served as vice president under President John Quincy Adams and President Andrew Jackson. He was also secretary of state, secretary of war and a U.S. senator.
According to YaleNews, however, the legacy of Calhoun, an outspoken advocate for slavery, is not one to be celebrated:
“When he learned of Calhoun’s death, Benjamin Silliman Sr. 1796 B.A., 1799 M.A., professor of chemistry at Yale and the namesake of another residential college, mourned the passing of his contemporary while immediately condemning his legacy:
‘[Calhoun] in a great measure changed the state of opinion and the manner of speaking and writing upon this subject in the South, until we have come to present to the world the mortifying and disgraceful spectacle of a great republic — and the only real republic in the world — standing forth in vindication of slavery, without prospect of, or wish for, its extinction. If the views of Mr. Calhoun, and of those who think with him, are to prevail, slavery is to be sustained on this great continent forever.’”
Salovey said he and other trustees came to the decision because, unlike other namesakes that may have questionable ties in history, Calhoun does not have a strong relationship with the university’s history.
“Removing Calhoun’s name in no way weakens our commitment to honoring those who have made major contributions to the life and mission of Yale,” Salovey said.
But Calhoun’s name will not disappear from the campus completely, in an attempt to preserve campus history, Salovey noted.
“In making this change, we must be vigilant not to erase the past,” the president said. “To that end, we will not remove symbols of Calhoun from elsewhere on our campus, and we will develop a plan to memorialize the fact that Calhoun was a residential college name for 86 years. Furthermore, alumni of the college may continue to associate themselves with the name Calhoun College or they may choose to claim Grace Hopper College as their own.”