Just hours after plastic tables and pizza boxes were cleared from Old Campus for the annual Bulldog Days closing pizza party, University President Peter Salovey announced a series of historic naming decisions that have not escaped the attention of students yet uncommitted to Yale.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Salovey announced that Calhoun College would not be renamed, the title of residential college master would change to “head of college” and Yale’s two new residential colleges would honor civil rights activist Pauli Murray LAW ’65 and founding father Benjamin Franklin as their respective namesakes. The decision, which came just four days before the deadline for admitted students to commit to Yale, has already sparked discussion among members of the class of 2020, with many weighing the announcements in their considerations.
“I was disappointed in the Calhoun decision,” said Marley Finley, an admitted student from Virginia deciding between Harvard and Yale. “When I was at Harvard, students pitching their school to me told me that part of what made Harvard better was its administration. [Yale’s] Calhoun decision seems to support that comment.”
Finley is one of several students who expressed concern about the announcement in an admitted students Facebook group managed by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Some have posted saying that the University’s decision has forced them to second-guess whether they want to attend Yale, while others defended the administration’s choices. Many expressed their disappointment with the decisions, but remain undeterred in their decision to attend Yale.
Sidney Saint-Hilaire, an admitted student from New York who is African-American, said the University’s decision has given him pause about committing to Yale, adding that schools like Brown work harder toward faculty diversity and inclusion for people of color in general.
“Less than a day after I sent in my early action application, I turned on the television and saw Yale students protesting the University’s refusal to protect [people of color] on campus intellectually and morally under a guise of preserving free speech,” Saint-Hilaire said. “I was ashamed of the University, but it was my pride in the students that stopped me from rescinding my application. I feel that same feeling sitting here less than 24 hours after Bulldog Days, on the verge of committing, and looking at this news.”
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the Admissions Office is aware that admitted students are discussing the naming announcements, but did not offer comment on how the news might impact individual student decisions. Quinlan emphasized that the incoming class will inevitably engage in ongoing campus conversations on race.
“Yale students’ commitment to activism on issues that resonate across every college campus has continually impressed me,” Quinlan said. “Like those before them, the class of 2020 will play an important role in making Yale a stronger, more unified community, and will set an example for colleges around the world.”
Prospective students disappointed in the naming decisions said they noticed a disconnect between students voices and administrative actions. George Iskander, an admitted student from New Jersey, said he was dismayed that the administration did not heed students’ calls for changing the name of Calhoun, despite priding itself on being receptive to student input.
In a studentwide survey administered by the News last week, 55 percent of roughly 1,700 respondents said Yale should change the name of Calhoun College, but only 39 percent believed the change would happen.
“I think it’s a little funny that this all comes on the heels of [Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway’s] talk to us at the Shubert [Theater] where he assured us that Yale listens,” Iskander said. On Monday, Holloway addressed 1,100 prospective students to welcome them and their families to campus.
Amey Mahajan ’17, who will serve as an Ezra Stiles freshman counselor next year, said that particularly regarding Wednesday’s naming decisions, it is important for FroCos to be open to hearing about students’ concerns and considering multiple points of view. He said that sometimes the best outcome for a troubled student might be just to have talked about the issue with someone.
Four of the six prospective students interviewed, however, said the naming decisions will not ultimately affect their decisions to enroll.
Vincent Gleizer, who is from California, said that while he still intends to enroll at Yale, the announcements have made him unsure of whether he can fully trust the administration’s promises to take student concerns seriously.
Catherine Ganung, associate director of college counseling at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, said she doubts that the decisions will be a factor in her students’ college choices, adding that she has not heard of any concern from students at Taft about issues of naming at any college.
Some students said the decisions made them more excited to attend Yale because they can participate in these discussions.
Stephen Early, an admitted student from Virginia who is black, said Wednesday’s announcements only reaffirmed his decision to come to Yale.
“While many who were on the fence with their decision felt that the failure to rename Calhoun pushed them away from the idea of attending Yale,” Early said, “it made me more certain that it is a great university, albeit a university of problems, and these problems are ones that I hope to help address and fix.”