Since the 1970s, Yalies have spoken out against the legacy of John C. Calhoun, class of 1804. In 1992, a black student gave an impromptu Commencement address damning Calhoun’s racist beliefs. In the fall of 2015, thousands of community members mobilized against Calhoun and for a better Yale. After University President Peter Salovey opted to retain the name, hundreds of faculty signed a petition calling for the reversal of his decision.
As of today, the college on the corner of Elm and College streets will, officially, be Formerly Known as Calhoun. Hopper College will take its place, named for the pioneering computer scientist and groundbreaking military leader Grace Hopper GRD ’34.
We at the News are relieved to see the elimination of “Calhoun,” and we commend the administration for admitting it made a mistake 10 months ago. Calhoun is not principally remembered for his work as a statesman — he’s remembered for his white supremacy. He passionately promoted slavery as a “positive good,” and no student should have to live under his roof.
Now, we have a new name. Hopper was a brilliant scientist, professor and rear admiral of the U.S. Navy. She fought fascism in World War II, using her scholarship for the common good. Her example is a model and inspiration for us all.
This renaming was not solely the result of secretive Corporation deliberations. It was the result of persistent activism, even in the face of defeat last April, and we owe a debt of gratitude to those who spent countless hours at the forefront of this fight.
Regarding the decision to honor Hopper, Salovey said that her “name was mentioned by more individuals than any other” and that “community input was indispensable.” However, on the elimination of Calhoun, Vice President of Communications Eileen O’Connor said in a morning press briefing that “no action by anyone precipitated this or forced it in any way at all,” with Salovey attributing the decision to principles held by the University’s administration.
Yet last year, we saw students participate in a campuswide March of Resilience. We saw them present Salovey with a list of demands, including the elimination of Calhoun. We saw them hold a renaming ceremony in protest of the April decision. And over the summer, we saw more than half the Faculty of Arts and Sciences sign a petition opposing Calhoun. Faculty members are the stewards of this institution, and by utilizing their expertise, the administration can create a fairer, more equitable Yale.
Salovey continues to emphasize the dangers of erasing history. We at the News are concerned that by ascribing this decision to principle alone, the administration runs the risk of erasing a proud history of student and faculty activism. In remembering the legacy of Hopper, we should also remember all that brought us to this point. As Grace Hopper once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”
Moving away from outdated tradition and toward a more diverse University does not end with this decision. From faculty diversity to the expansion of ethnic studies to mental health services for students of color, the University has work to do in making good on its promise of a better Yale. But today, we took a great step forward.