Hundreds of activists and their allies gathered in front of Calhoun College Friday afternoon to protest the Corporation’s decision to retain the college’s name and rechristen it as “the college formerly known as Calhoun.”
Holding signs inscribed with potential replacement namesakes, such as Grace Hopper and Edward Bouchet, students dressed in black lined up in front of the college. A handful of activists spoke to the audience of roughly 600, lamenting that the University has honored a white supremacist for more than 80 years and explaining that the gathering marks the first step toward a new path. One speaker explained that Calhoun College will not be given a new name yet; rather, students will take a moment to reflect first. Others read spoken word poetry, sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice” and decried the “historical and ongoing injustices” enabled by Yale administrators.
“President Salovey, alumni, Yale Corporation: we are grateful people. We are not selfish. We are painfully self aware,” one speaker said. “But our allegiance belongs to those who love us … It does not belong to you.”
Dianne Lake ‘16, who sang at the rally, said students had expected the University to do better and that administrators made a mistake maintaining the name of Calhoun.
“This demonstration was about a rebirth and renaming,” Lake said.
Just prior to the rally, University President Peter Salovey told the News that he welcomes expressions of student opinion in its many forms.
Yale Professor David Blight, who specializes in Civil War history, said he was glad that the activists opted to “start a process” rather than rename the college at the demonstration.
History and American Studies professor Ned Blackhawk, who attended the event, said it signified students’ intellectual engagement with issues of racism and indigenous dispossession.
“It seems to me that our students have a global conscience about indigenous dispossession,” Blackhawk said, referencing the protest’s emphasis that Yale is built on stolen Quinnipiac land. “They have learned about these issues in their classrooms and are applying it to their everyday life.”
Toward the end of the gathering, a chant that included “Calhoun’s gotta go” emerged. New Haven Rising organizer Rev. Scott Marks, who initiated it, praised students for their efforts.
“I thought the demonstration was wonderful, and I give the students a lot of credit,” Marks said. “We trusted Yale that it would do the right thing. To remind us of the malt painful part of black history so that they could keep in history in place — it needs to go.”
Head of Calhoun College Julia Adams said she found the demonstration “impressive and beautiful,” especially praising the members of her college who participated.
While a number of other heads of colleges attended the event, they were less willing to share their thoughts given the protest’s connection to Calhoun College. Both Head of Pierson College Stephen Davis and Head of Timothy Dwight College Mary Lui declined to comment.
Salovey announced the decision to maintain the namesake of John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, on Wednesday.