Against renaming Calhoun College
As an alumnus of Calhoun, I feel strongly compelled to respond to the opinions expressed in last week’s News’ View (“Rename Calhoun College,” Sept. 2). Counter to the argument of the writers, Yale must retain the current name of Calhoun College.
Although the legacy of John C. Calhoun is undoubtedly counter to the values we currently hold as a society, it is extremely important that we continue to acknowledge past injustices to enable every generation to understand the moral evolution of American society. As cliché as it may be, history reminds us of the failings of human nature. Erasing Calhoun’s name is tantamount to disavowing a central portion of the legacy of our country. It will deprive future generations of the opportunity to deeply reflect on the progression of humanity in America.
Removing Calhoun’s name now is especially troubling as the history of our nation has become even more intertwined with contemporary events. The legacy of police brutality and feelings of disenfranchisement within the African-American community undeniably originate in the very philosophical beliefs promoted by John C. Calhoun. Knowledge of racial subjugation is integral to understanding the modern situation. Confining references of slavery to the dusty pages of history books or the easily forgotten words of a lecturer do not confer the relevancy of historical injustices to modern-day events. In contrast, Calhoun’s name serves as an ever-present reminder that the specter of the past can cast a perpetual pallor over the present.
Aside from Calhoun’s historical significance, as an African-American student at Yale University, I appreciated that the name of John C. Calhoun remained a potent force for reflection on the legacy of enslavement imposed upon the ancestors of many in America. Calhoun’s name serves as a constant reminder of the ignoble past, but is also a beacon to acknowledge the progress that has taken place in our society. It was not lost on me that both the Master (Jonathan Holloway) and the Dean (Leslie Woodard) of Calhoun College during my time at Yale were African American. Their positions in posts of authority juxtaposed against the harsh reality of Calhoun’s advocacy of slavery served as a tangible reminder that minorities have made incredible strides in society — and that we can look forward to a future of continual progress.
In closing, it is undeniable that Yale is unequivocally opposed to both the ideas and legacy of John C. Calhoun. No rational observer would conclude that by retaining the name of Calhoun College, Yale intends to glorify the legacy of oppression Calhoun advocated. Replacing Calhoun’s name with another — more culturally progressive — alumnus of Yale’s, however, would function to absolve the legacy of our nation, and wash away past sins under a façade. Yale prides itself on educating the brightest minds and the future leaders of our generation. Ensuring Calhoun’s name remains perpetually installed upon the college will force every subsequent generation to proactively reflect on the lingering impact of slavery in our society to this day — and make the Yale experience all the richer for it.
The writer is a 2013 alumnus of Calhoun College.