In the coming years, two new names will be added to the ranks of chemists, preachers and Southern secessionists whose names grace Yale’s residential colleges.
The responsibility for naming Yale’s two new residential colleges lies with the Yale Corporation. Although administrators, faculty and students have no formal role in the decision-making process, many have developed strong opinions about what the Corporation should emphasize when making its decision. In particular, students and faculty members across the University suggested the new colleges’ names ought to diversify the roster of exclusively white men who stand behind the names of Yale’s current residential colleges.
“I think that between the two residential college namesakes, we should at least hit two of the following: person of color, woman, queer person, not rich, disabled — literally anything to symbolically represent dedication to others besides straight white men,” Alex Borsa ’16 said.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she has heard students and faculty float the names of Yale alumni such as Edward Bouchet 1876, Henry Roe Cloud 1910 GRD 1912 and Yung Wing 1854 — respectively, Yale’s first African-American, Native American and Chinese graduates.
Bouchet, the first African-American to receive a Ph.D, graduated with a doctorate in physics. Cloud went on after Yale to become an educator, Presbyterian minister and official in the federal Office of Indian Affairs. Wing was the first Chinese citizen to graduate from any American university, and he brought Chinese students to study in the United States under the Chinese Educational Mission.
Only two out of 16 students interviewed had specific namesakes in mind for the new colleges beyond Charles Johnson ’54, the donor whose $250 million gift last October propelled the colleges’ construction forward. However, administrators have explicitly said the colleges will not be named for a living donor.
Drew Morrison ’14 suggested the possibility of naming one of the colleges after Josiah Gibbs 1809 and Josiah Gibbs Jr. 1858 GRD ’1863. The elder Gibbs played an important role in defending the prisoners who mutinied aboard the Spanish schooner Amistad while being transported as slaves, and his son went on to earn the first American doctorate in engineering from Yale and make major contributions to the sciences.
While Miller recognized the difficulty of finding a prestigious female alumnus — as women were only admitted to Yale in 1969 — she suggested alternative community figures such as Mary Wright, a historian of China who became the first woman to gain tenure in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1959.
Miller added that many community members have floated the name of Prudence Crandall, a white Quaker teacher with no Yale ties, but whose Connecticut schoolhouse was effectively the nation’s first integrated classroom.
“It would be lovely to have a college named after a woman or a person of color,” American Studies professor Joanne Meyerowitz said.
Still, the University may choose to name a college after a white man — former University President Kingman Brewster ’41, who opened the University’s gates to women and minorities, significantly diversifying the student body for the first time.
“Under Brewster, admissions policies changed at Yale,” Miller said. “And although many will critique the SAT now, the insistence [on using] the SAT was thought to be pretty revolutionary in the 1960s, allowing more outstanding public high school students to get the fat envelope,” she said.
Naming a college after Brewster would represent “fairness, equity and openness,” Miller added.
But none of the faculty, students or administrators interviewed said an individual’s status as a member of an underrepresented group should compensate for lack of achievement. Several said diversity should play no role in the Corporation’s deliberations.
“I don’t think I really care about them being named after a minority,” said Abhishek Chandra ’16. “It’s more about achievement.”
Students disagreed on the types of achievements that would qualify an individual to be a namesake for one of the colleges, alternately emphasizing public service, contributions to scholarship and monetary donations to Yale. All interviewed said the University should consider the decision with the utmost seriousness, as the colleges’ names will become a part of the University for the foreseeable future.
Arabic professor Dimitri Gutas GRD ’74 said the names should be historically significant rather than “politically fad-ish.”
“[The names] will have some sort of historical illusion, direct or indirect,” said Nancy Berry ’84, who volunteers frequently for the University. “Whatever names are chosen, they’ve got to carry their weight against some pretty incredible names.”
The University is expected to break ground on the colleges in February 2015.