Four reverends, two ministers, two politicians, an inventor, a professor and a preacher walk into a bar. All are white, Christian men. Does this bar look a little stodgy and exclusive? Well, on the door there is a sign that reads, “No shirt, no shoes, no WASPish white antecedents, no service.”
These 11 men represent the namesakes of Yale’s residential colleges, plus two stuffy New England towns, Branford and Saybrook. (You may have noticed this adds up to 13, since Timothy Dwight College was named for both Timothy Dwight IV and Timothy Dwight V.) If we examine these people, they are a pretty homogenous bunch. They include Yale’s first rector (Pierson), a states-rights-loving Southern politician (Calhoun) and a firebrand Evangelical preacher (Jonathan Edwards). And they might not be too thrilled with the amount of diversity that is currently at Yale.
But Yale is diverse, even if you wouldn’t know it looking at the colleges’ namesakes. This is not to insult those for whom the residential colleges were named — these men (all men) and towns played important roles in Yale’s and America’s history, and I thank them. But we are living in the 21st century! It is time to show the world that Yale is a place that welcomes all.
What better way to do this than to name Yale’s new residential colleges after people who are not quite so lily-white? I humbly put forth the names of three individuals worthy of being honored with a residential college in their name. Imagine the message Yale could send the world if the new residential colleges were named for a woman, an African-American or an Hispanic! The individuals listed below are not, however, just suggested because of their race or gender. They are pioneers, writers, social critics, academics, athletes. They have overcome tremendous struggles, faced down adversity, and changed the world.
Christine “Chris” Ernst (B.A., 1976): Christine “Chris” Ernst came to Yale in 1972. It was an institution that had only recently become co-ed, so sexism was everywhere. On the Yale lightweight crew team, the men taunted and harassed the female rowers, even while the female rowers had insufficient access to facilities. After practicing, the women were forced to wait on the freezing bus for the men to shower before the women could return to Yale to finally shower. Many women eventually became sick because of this treatment; some even caught pneumonia. Fed up, Ernst called the New York Times, and led 19 rowers to remove their sweatshirts in front of a photographer, the words “Title IX” written on their bare chests and backs. Ernst then read a passionate statement to the press. Ernst’s now famous protest brought national attention to gender inequality in athletics across the country. Ernst would go on to become an Olympian and 1986 world champion (lightweight women’s double sculls).
Henry Louis Gates (B.A., 1973; Professor, 1976-’85): Born in segregated pre-civil rights West Virginia, Henry Louis Gates would eventually graduate summa cum laude from Yale in 1973, later obtaining a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Gates would go on to teach at Yale for nearly 10 years before he was controversially denied tenure. Gates is now the Alphonse Fletcher Professor at Harvard University, where he is also the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for African and African-American Research. Gates is a passionate and outspoken advocate for African-American intellectual and educational equality. He has written prominently about the importance of including black literature in the larger canon of classic literature, and he has testified in court to defend rap groups charged with obscenity, groups he claimed were embracing the African-American vernacular. A MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Gates was once named one of Time Magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans.”
Sonia Sotomayor (J.D., 1979): Sonia Sotomayor was raised in the housing projects of the Bronx by Puerto Rican parents who spoke almost no English. Sotomayor herself only became fluent in English after her father died when she was 9 years old. Shortly before this, Sotomayor had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Still, Sotomayor overcame these troubles and matriculated to Princeton University, where she would prominently advocate for the hiring of Hispanic faculty and graduate summa cum laude. Later, at Yale Law School, Sotomayor was again a fierce advocate for the hiring of Hispanic faculty (and an editor on the Yale Law Journal). In 1998, Sotomayor was appointed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and, in 2009, she became the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
For most of its existence, Yale did not count African Americans, Hispanics or women among its students. But times have changed, and, thankfully, so has Yale. The time has come for Yale to acknowledge a changed world and recognize, in some immeasurably small way, the remarkable contributions made by several of its women and minority graduates.
Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College.