On Saturday, the Yale Women’s Center issued a statement concerning the renaming of Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College. While we are sincerely happy about the decision to rename the college, we are skeptical of the administration’s intentions in renaming the college after a white woman, regardless of Grace Hopper’s GRD ’34 accomplishments as a woman in STEM and in the military. We recognize that white femininity has often been used as a tool to enforce racist and colonialist structures. As such, we hope to explain how this decision constitutes “whitewashing” to the wider Yale community.
The Yale administration’s decision to rename the college Hopper is an attempt to corrode and erase the long history of activism by students of color — particularly black women — on this campus. There was no recognition of the work of the Change-the-Name Coalition’s weekly protests in University President Peter Salovey’s email. There was no recognition of the countless hours black students and students of color have put into the fight against the honoring of a white supremacist in their home. In the process, they sacrificed sleep, homework and mental health. Over the course of last year, Salovey frequently called for students and community members to partake in intellectual discussion regarding the role of slavery in Yale’s history. While this was the initial rationale for not renaming Calhoun last April, the new solution he has presented — renaming the college after Hopper — does not grapple with the issue he originally encouraged students to tackle. Given that the college is named after a white woman, are we supposed to continue to talk about Yale’s history of slavery and its continuous perpetuation of white supremacy?
The arguments made against the name John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, all focused on him as an infamous white supremacist. As Salovey wrote in his email, Calhoun fought for slavery as a “positive good,” which did not align with Yale’s values. But what are Yale’s values, and how do they relate to the choice of Hopper? It is incoherent to offer gender as a substitute for race. Race, gender and class are not interchangeable. Changing Calhoun to Hopper did not provide an answer to the demand of students of color: For Yale to recognize its complicity in white supremacy. Thus, the Hopper College renaming is a red herring — it attempts to end the discussion of race and slavery at Yale by replacing a problematic white person with a nonproblematic white person. Given the historical legacy of Calhoun, the administration did a wrong by not naming the college after a black person.
In light of the current political climate, both at Yale and in the country as a whole, various marginalized groups — including women — have felt the need to mobilize to protect their rights. We at the Yale Women’s Center feel compelled to be critical of the Hopper name, especially since it has been claimed as an achievement for feminism. While we rejoice in the fact that two colleges out of 14 are now named after women — there were none this time last year — this is not quite the achievement students and community activists were looking for.
On the afternoon the renaming decision was made, students from all colleges gathered on the snowy Hopper courtyard. Blasting music and greeting friends with warm embraces, students celebrated a decision that was a long time coming and which was long deserved. Although the renaming can be subject to critique, we must acknowledge that a victory is still a victory. The decision to rename Calhoun College demonstrates that student activism can lead to concrete outcomes. So let’s continue to ask for more.
Nicole Chavez is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College and the special events coordinator of the Women’s Center. Rita Wang is a sophomore in Morse College and the political action coordinator. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org .