With the names of the two new residential colleges, the Yale Corporation has chosen to honor two “exemplary American leaders,” one a woman of color and one a white male.
Anna Pauline Murray LAW ’65, the first woman or person of color to be honored as the namesake of a college, was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women, a famous civil rights activist and the first African-American to graduate from Yale with a doctorate in juridical science. Murray, who was queer, also received an honorary degree from the Divinity School in 1979. Salovey called her a champion of racial and gender equity, adding that Murray represents “the best of Yale: a preeminent intellectual inspired to lead and prepared to serve her community and her country.”
Benjamin Franklin, the other namesake, never graduated from Yale, although he did receive an honorary degree in 1753. The founder and a former president of the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin was a member of the “Committee of Five” that drafted the Declaration of Independence. As an innovator and self-taught scientist, Franklin also invented the lightning rod and made key scientific discoveries related to electricity and the wave theory of light. Salovey wrote that Franklin’s “commitment as a scientist, statesman, philosopher and writer” have shaped America.
“Both Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray were committed life-long learners who believed in the power of education to transform individuals and societies,” Salovey said in a statement.
The announcement comes after years of activism, with many students calling for both of the new colleges to be named after women and people of color. In a survey conducted by the News last week, 82 percent of roughly 1,700 respondents said a concerted effort should be made to name one or both of the new colleges after a woman or person of color. Roughly 60 percent said neither of the two new colleges should be named for a white male.
Twenty students interviewed almost all championed the decision to honor Murray but seemed surprised by the decision to honor Franklin. More than half said they believed that the Corporation sought to “check all the boxes” by choosing Murray given her race, gender and sexuality, and honored Franklin because Charles Johnson ’54 — who donated $250 million for the construction of the new residential colleges — considers him a “personal role model.”
Indeed, although the University asserted in 2008 that the names of the new colleges were not for sale, Salovey noted in his announcement that the name honors Johnson, who sees Franklin as a “personal role model.” From 1957 to 2013, Johnson worked as chairman of the mutual fund Franklin Resources, which was also named after Benjamin Franklin.
According to The Washington Post, Salovey told reporters in a Wednesday conference call that Johnson did not make the naming of Franklin College a condition of his donation. But, Salovey continued, “he asked us when he made his gift — and I really want you to remember that this is the largest single gift ever given to Yale — he asked us to consider Benjamin Franklin as the namesake of a college.”
More than a dozen students interviewed said the naming of Franklin College is surprising and troubling. Some pointed to the fact that Franklin did not actually attend Yale. Several took issue with the fact that Franklin owned slaves.
Head of Silliman College Nicholas Christakis said he expected students to find the naming of Franklin College “perplexing,” as Franklin did not graduate from Yale. Christakis added that if the University wanted to name a college after a revolutionary figure, avoiding slave owners would have been nearly impossible.
Perhaps the greatest criticism was directed at the Corporation’s decision to honor Franklin for financial reasons, rather than at Franklin himself.
“Yale’s priorities are money and alumni, who provide the money, so I guess it’s just money,” Titania Nguyen ’18 said. “But Ben Franklin? It’s like [Yale] asked ‘How do we make all the money?’ and decided to name it after a mutual investment firm.”
The Yale College Council wrote in a statement that unlike the namesakes of the other residential colleges, Franklin has little academic, administrative, financial or geographic connection to the University. The YCC added that through the decision to name the college after a straight, white, cisgender male, the Corporation signaled to students that Yale’s values as an institution — and as a community — are secondary to the value of the dollar.
The Yale Women’s Center also published a statement criticizing the Franklin decision. “As students, we choose to honor Aretha Franklin,” the statement read. Aretha Franklin also received an honorary degree from Yale in 2010. Late Wednesday night, flyers featuring an image of Aretha Franklin and the words “We Deserve R-E-S-P-E-C-T” appeared around campus. Another large banner outside the Women’s Center said “We out here, We’ve been here, We ain’t leaving, We are loved.”
Other students expressed concern about Franklin’s history as a slaveholder.
Nat Aramayo ’17 said Franklin was a “lazy” decision, adding that Franklin was a slaveholder for a vast majority of his life, despite becoming an abolitionist later on.
“Out of all the people you could’ve chosen, not only did you pick a former slaveholder, but someone whose legacy is already honored on our currency,” Aramayo said.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the Times that this year marked “a moment of reckoning” that he hoped would strengthen the University. He said the community was trying to “reconcile our current values and aspirations” with the new residential college names.
“I’m thrilled that Pauli Murray will be honored in this way,” said history Professor Glenda Gilmore, who wrote a book on Murray called “Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950.” “She was a courageous civil rights leader for over 40 years, a pioneering feminist, a gay woman and a tireless worker for labor rights. She has a lot to teach our community.”
Head of Timothy Dwight College Mary Lui said Murray performed admirable work as a legal scholar and advocate of racial and gender equity. She added that Murray will inspire students who inhabit the college.
Johnson’s $250 million donation was announced in September 2013.