“My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom.” So said Samuel Morse 1810, inventor, artist, nativist and the namesake of Morse College. Why then, 47 years ago, in the middle of our country’s civil rights movement, did Yale choose to honor Morse by naming a residential college in his honor? This is one question that the members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee posed through a symbolic renaming of the residential colleges on Indigenous Peoples Day this past Monday.
Indigenous Peoples Day was created to question the way in which the United States honors Christopher Columbus but ignores the suffering inflicted upon original inhabitants and victims of the colonialism that followed. Therefore, this seemed an appropriate day to reflect on the people Yale has chosen to honor. Our intentions were not to get the colleges renamed but rather to provoke discussion. This conversation should take place not only among students but should also include University professors and administrators. This need is especially acute as Yale moves to name two new colleges. We urge the administration to take the concerns we have raised into consideration and honor the liberal standards to which the University professes to adhere; standards which include diversity and gender equality.
We not only seek to question the history of Yale but also to question the way in which Yale approaches this past today.
This history is certainly no secret; we obtained our information from external sources, such as yaleslavery.org. Yet Yale refuses to acknowledge these facts in the way it presents itself as an institution. In our classes, we learn about the history of slavery and colonialism but only at a distance, as if these issues lie purely in the past. Instead, we are part of a living institution that has played a major role in the oppression of peoples — this should be a tool used to bring this history closer to home. Yale’s suppression of this legacy furthers the wrongs done in the past. But we have an opportunity to redress these wrongs through open and honest dialogue.
Yale’s refusal to acknowledge its unsavory history is part of the University’s larger problem with transparency. Over the past year, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee has been working to get Yale to use its shareholder stake in HEI Hotels and Resorts to urge the company to refrain from intimidating its workers through firings and interrogations and to recognize their right to organize. Yale does not disclose information about HEI or its involvement with the company, nor does it willingly discuss the issue. Funding HEI’s mistreatment of workers goes against the University’s liberal image, just as the names of our colleges and other campus buildings conflict with the mission of our University. We call on all members of the Yale community to be aware of our impact on the world, historically and currently and to question to incongruities with the image it presents.
Mac Herring is a sophomore in Berkley College; Sofia Ortiz is a junior in Ezra Stiles College; Anna Robinson-Sweet is a junior in Davenport College; Luke Studebaker is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. They are members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.