A couple weeks ago, Yalies received an email asking them to suggest names for the two new residential colleges. Suddenly, students, staff and faculty alike were abuzz. Now, that excitement has largely died down. In a few weeks or months, the powers that be will give us their decision. Before that happens, I’d like to weigh in on the question of naming in a slightly different way.
I feel — as many do — that the names of the new colleges should more accurately reflect Yale’s present and past. They should not continue our institution’s predictable habit of naming buildings after rich, straight, white, Christian men. It’s 2014. It’s time for some diversity — not for the sake of what critics like to call political correctness, but because it’s time we recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of the full range of Yalies, including our female, non-white or queer alumnae.
This idea has almost taken on an air of inevitability. But there is a legitimate fear associated with naming the two new colleges after more diverse individuals. Dean Jonathan Holloway eloquently expressed this concern in a Sept. 19 interview with the News’ “Everybody Has a Story.”
Holloway said, “I would personally — speaking not as a dean but as an individual on this planet — love to see the college naming diversified to represent who Yale is at this moment in time. My concern, though, is that you have these two colleges that are ‘so far away’ to Yale undergraduates’ consciousness, that they somehow become ghettoized … ”
In other words, imagine the message Yale would be sending by geographically segregating, as it were, its new non-white or non-male colleges, far from the center of campus life.
Yet there’s an easy fix to this problem. It’s not innovative and it’s been suggested before.
Let’s name the new colleges after more diverse individuals. And let’s rename some of our old colleges after more diverse individuals. That way, diversity permeates Yale’s residential colleges, just as it permeates our community.
Nine out of 12 of the residential colleges are named for slave-owners. Calhoun College, located in the very heart of campus, is named for John C. Calhoun, perhaps the nation’s foremost advocate of slavery and states’ rights. Calhoun almost singlehandedly ensured new territories were admitted as slave states and laid the ideological groundwork for nullification and secession. He was, and remains, a despicable human being. It’s about time we change Calhoun College’s name.
As an excellent Herald article pointed out two years ago, we could also stand to rename Morse College. In addition to being an inventor, Morse was a rabid racist and xenophobe, who repeatedly ran for New York mayor as the pro-slavery candidate.
Men like Calhoun and Morse were not mere products of their time. They were unusually, influentially bigoted, successfully spreading hate as they attained power. They are not “mere” racists.
Students have been advocating for this sort of renaming for decades. In 1992, Hounies protested in favor of a name change. In 2009, activists chalked the names of people of color over several colleges’ entrances.
And this sort of name change is not uncommon. Decades ago, Piersonites dropped the “slave” as their mascot. In 2005, administrators at Vanderbilt University proposed changing the name of its Confederate Memorial Hall. In 2010, the University of Texas rechristened a building that had borne the name of a prominent Klansman.
Some Yalies have spoken against such an idea. In 2012, Holloway, then-Master of Calhoun, told the Herald it would be “wrong” to change the college’s name. “I’ve seen too many instances where Americans have very happily allowed themselves to be amnesiac and changed the name of something and walked away,” Holloway said to a gathering of Calhoun alumni earlier this year.
Holloway again makes a good point. But there’s another way to remedy this. Let’s simply continue to teach about Yale’s — and America’s — bigoted past and present, even as we rescind these honors. In fact, let’s beef up this teaching. Renaming Calhoun — or another college — does not necessarily mean we forget or gloss over our history. It means we are telling our community and the world that Yale simply does not honor evil people anymore. Every new student at the renamed Calhoun College should be instructed about the college’s previous namesake. By taking away a great honor from a disgusting man, we need not forget who he was. We need not forget Yale’s complicity.
We can name the new colleges after more diverse people, rename some old colleges after less-awful people and do a better job teaching about the hatred that underlies the original naming decisions. These actions are not mutually exclusive.
Scott Stern is a senior in Branford College. His columns run on Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com.