This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print in the October 5, 2015 edition of the News.
A crowd of about 20 protesters chanting and holding picket signs assembled on Elm Street in the wind and rain Saturday afternoon to advocate for the renaming of Calhoun College.
The protest marks the latest chapter in an ongoing controversy that has divided campus and attracted national media attention. After the June massacre of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, University President Peter Salovey opened a public debate about the future of Calhoun College, named for former U.S. vice president and vocal slavery proponent John C. Calhoun, class of 1804. A petition calling for the University to change the name of the residential college has collected about 1,500 signatures.
But only one Yale student participated in the hourlong rally, which was held outside the gates of Calhoun College, signaling a possible disconnect between local activists and the student body. The demonstrators waved signs that said “Calhoun: Racist” and “Gentrification, Racism and Police Terror: Calhoun’s Legacy.”
The protest was organized by the Connecticut branch of the Answer Coalition — an anti-racism group — with endorsements from the Yale chapter of the NAACP and the New Haven-based organization People Against Injustice.
Norman Clement, a local organizer for the Answer Coalition, said the protest was part of a nationwide effort to eliminate symbols of racial injustice.
“It’s just a small step in changing the culture of white supremacy in this country,” Clement said. “There’s a legacy that needs to get swept into the dustbin of history.”
Emily Hays ’16, the president of the advocacy group Blue Haven and the only student who attended the protest, said she was disappointed with the heavily Caucasian turnout. Hays, who is white, said she feared her leadership role in the protest would marginalize the voices of people of color.
Clement said the Answer Coalition does not have much contact with Yale students, adding that no representatives from the Yale NAACP chapter attended the protest.
Brea Baker ’16, president of the Yale NAACP, said chapter members were attending a mandatory training session the day of the protest.
Nine of 10 students interviewed Sunday said they were not aware a protest had taken place the day before.
“It’s probably a sign of them not organizing their protest well,” Emma Phelps ’19 said.
Several protesters criticized Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway for simply encouraging debate rather than taking concrete action.
Clement said the administrators’ call for an open debate is just an empty gesture designed to placate dedicated activists.
“No debate! Let’s smash the hate!” the protesters chanted.
Chris Garaffa, a New Haven resident who volunteers for the Answer Coalition, said Calhoun left a legacy of racial oppression that continues to hurt African-Americans in the form of gentrification and police brutality. He added that the stormy weather, as well as other race-related events scheduled for the same day, likely contributed to the small turnout at the protest.
Jennifer Griffiths, a volunteer for the group Showing Up for Racial Justice — an organization that works to include white people in anti-racism protests — attended the demonstration with her seven-year-old daughter, Helaine.
“I’m raising a child of color in this town,” Griffiths said. “What does it mean to have this legacy embraced and honored? I think it’s a kind of assault. There’s a psychological violence.”
Stanley Heller ’69 said Calhoun College is just one of many Yale buildings named after proponents of slavery. Heller added that during his time at the University, student activists focused on promoting integration, and completely ignored the racially charged names and symbols scattered across campus.
As the protest began to wind down, Clement delivered an impassioned speech to the demonstrators huddled together in the rain.
“We need a revolution in this country,” he said. “You can be on the side standing out here with us, or you can be on the side that’s gonna sit behind these walls cowering in fear as the masses of people come storming your gates.”
Six of seven protesters interviewed said they believe Calhoun College will eventually be renamed.
Calhoun is one of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents.