The Undergraduate Organizing Committee has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the campaign of chalk and fliers that proposes new names for Yale buildings the group says are named after supporters of slavery.
Last Sunday, under the cover of darkness, six to eight members of the social activist group set out to post new names for eight of Yale’s residential colleges and three other buildings. It took three or four hours. The students hoisted each other up to paste their posters over the official University signs. For Jonathan Edwards College, for example, they said Yale should instead recognize Edwards’ slave, Titus X. In large letters on Cross Campus, they chalked their mysterious slogan: “Emancipate Yale.”
“[Our goal] is to raise historical awareness about our campus and who our University chooses to honor,” UOC members said in an e-mail to the News on Tuesday night.
Allen Sanchez ’10, a member of the organization, said that the UOC is not necessarily looking to rename the colleges, though he said he hopes it will bring awareness to the issue.
“We can’t let slavery go unnoticed,” Sanchez said.
Members of the group said they hoped campus would be more likely to react if they remained anonymous rather than couching the actions as an organization’s “agenda item,” Sanchez said. And they wanted to gauge reactions before going public, he added.
Indeed, when UOC member Hans Schoenburg ’10 was first approached to confirm his role in the campaign, he denied involvement. Later, Schoenburg said that because it was a group effort, he did not feel comfortable speaking on the group’s behalf.
In an interview Wednesday night, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said that while the issues raised by the UOC’s efforts are worth discussing, building names at Yale are part of the University’s history.
“The most meaningful way to think about this in the Yale context is that names are like a series of strata, in which we add names and build names layer by layer,” Miller said. “We do that across the University.”
During the 2008-’09 school year, the UOC organized several protests. In November, about 20 UOC members staged a sit-in at the Yale Investments Office to protest investments they considered ethically irresponsible. In February, the group organized a write-in campaign against HEI Hotels & Resorts, a company they accused of mistreating employees and in which they said Yale invests.
Sanchez said the idea for the latest campaign, “Emancipate Yale,” grew out of a UOC meeting at the end of September. The UOC conceived the idea for the movement after coming across “The Yale Slavery and Abolition Report” on yaleslavery.org, a work authored by three Yale graduate students in 2001, Schoenburg said.
Antony Dugdale GRD ’01, along with colleagues J.J. Feuser GRD ’02 and J. Celso de Castro Alves GRD ’06, published the Web site after Yale’s tercentennial celebrations failed to mention the darker side of Yale’s history, Dugdale said.
“Yale tried [to publicize] the sweet version by focusing on its abolition efforts,” Dugdale said Wednesday, but he noted that this version of history ignored University-affiliated people and institutions that had connections with slavery.
Dugdale, Feuser and de Castro Alves worked for three to four months in the archives of Sterling Memorial Library before they published their work on the Internet. The Web site elicited widespread discussion of renaming the colleges on campus; Dwight Hall held debates to discuss the morality of its namesake Timothy Dwight, who actively recruited pro-slavery students from the American South during his tenure as University President, Dugdale said.
Dugdale said he hopes the people who name Yale’s two new colleges will take into consideration that Yale has historically named its buildings after pro-slavery supporters, most prominently Senator John C. Calhoun 1804, who was a strong slavery advocate in the pre-Civil War years. Dugdale expressed approval of the UOC’s revival of the ideas in his report.