Yale Students: Remove Slavery Advocate’s Name

By Sheryl Estrada


From the Web page of the petition created by Yale Divinity School students Heaven Berhane, Nicole Tinson and Nathan Empsall.

Yale University’s residential building named in honor of John C. Calhoun has causedstudents to question the moral fiber of the university.

Calhoun, a member of the Yale class of 1804, a South Carolina politician and seventh U.S. vice president from 1825 to 1832, was an outspoken advocate for slavery.

Arecentpetition, which currently has more than 9,000 signatures, demands the university rename the residential college, as Calhoun’s “legacy is one of racism and blood.”

The petition’s creators, Heaven Berhane, Nicole Tinson and Nathan Empsall, are students at the Yale Divinity School. Empsall, who is white, said his connection to his own ancestors inspired him to start the petition.

“It’s fun to reflect on the pioneers and Texas Rangers who came before me and how they shaped me,” he said to Care2, the petition website. “For many Black Americans, that same kind of reflection means being forced to think about the evils of slavery. When Black students tell white administrators that reminders of slavery like Calhoun’s name inflict incredible pain, our leaders need to listen.

“I came to Yale Divinity School to learn how to put my values into action as a minister, and that’s what this petition is about.”

The petition, which is open to the public, is garnering support nationally and internationally. The list of supporters displayed on the website only includes first and last names with either a state or country. It’s not clear if most of the 9,000 supporters consist of Yale’s 5,422 undergraduate students, graduate students or alumni.

However, The Yale Daily News, which is produced by an undergraduate staff, published an editorial in September stating that changing the name of the residence is essential:

Calhoun claimed to see slavery “in its true light,” but his doctrine of white supremacy is a perversion of Yale’s commitment to “light and truth.” It is anathema to every value we cherish. And it is alarming that Yale’s leaders chose to honor this person by naming a college for him almost 70 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s son, Dante, attends Yale and resides in the Calhoun building. De Blasio said in November he “absolutely” is in favor of changing the name. His son, who is a member of the Black Student Union, participated in protests against racial insensitivity on campus.

Hours after the resignation of University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe on Nov. 9 due to the mismanagement of racial issues on the school’s campuses, thousands of students at Yale University joined together for what they called a “March of Resilience.”

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The petition authors made reference to recent events on campus they believe demonstrated racial insensitivity, including when members of a fraternity were said to have turned women of color away from a Halloween party.

Sofia Petros-Gouin, a Columbia University freshman, visited friends at Yale University on Oct. 30 and went to a Halloween party at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house. She said that a white member of the fraternity turned away Black and Latina women at the door.

“He held his hand up to their faces and said, ‘No, we’re only looking for white girls,'” she said.

The following day, on Facebook, Yale student Neema Githere supported Petros-Gouin’s claim as she and her friends had a similar experience last year. Other students began to share experiences as well.

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Yale President PeterSalovey announced via a campus-wide email on Nov. 3 the university’s five-year, $50 million diversity plan.

The initiative is said to focus on hiring a more diverse faculty. The funding will be split evenly between the provost office and the various graduate and professional schools. But a commitment to change the name of Calhoun College is yet to be determined.

“It’s time for Yale to align itself on the right side of history, the one that promotes inclusion, denounces the atrocities of slavery, and can only truly begin with the renaming of Calhoun,” Berhane said.

The petition will be submittedto Salovey and the Yale Corporation Fellows once it reaches 10,000 supporters.

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