Courtesy of Alex Zhang

As a shower of fake $1 million bills rained down upon him, University President Peter Salovey found himself confronted with questions about race, money and historical memory on Thursday.

The bills were thrown by dozens of students in the balcony of Battell Chapel who were angry about the recently announced decision to retain the name of Calhoun College and to name one of the two new residential colleges after Benjamin Franklin. Salovey — who stood ashen-faced as students passionately questioned him, sometimes shouting to make their voices heard — hosted the town hall to hear student reactions to the controversial decisions. Hundreds of students attended the event, and student activists formed a particularly prominent block at the front of the chapel; many wore duct tape over their mouths and custom T-shirts protesting the decisions.

Among other complaints, students — many of whom cried as they spoke — said the decisions showed that the University has prioritized the wishes of billionaire donors over the well-being of students.

“We spent the entire year discussing this with you, and you turned around and did nothing,” said Yonas Takele ’17, a student in Calhoun who left the chapel in disgust soon after. “You had an opportunity to stand and do the right thing. It’s on you and I want you to know that. I have no respect for you.”

In Salovey’s opening remarks, he acknowledged that the naming announcements have generated a mixed reaction. But he staunchly defended the Corporation’s decisions. He described Yale’s status as an educational institution as the guiding principle for all three decisions, which he said were made independently of each other. The decision to retain Calhoun’s name, in particular, he said, was made because Yale has a responsibility to remember the legacy of slavery and use the symbol to “imagine and struggle for a different kind of future.”

But the dozens of students who spoke at the event passionately rejected his line of argument, contending that the educational value of Calhoun’s legacy does not excuse the emotional distress the college name has provoked among students of color.

“I want to dispel the notion that erasing Calhoun’s name would erase Yale’s history,” one student said.

“Are you saying that the pain of our classmates is an educational experience?” another student asked.

The discussion also dealt with the naming of Benjamin Franklin College, a decision that students called a “sell-out” designed to appease Charles B. Johnson ’54, who donated $250 million — the single largest gift Yale has ever received — toward the construction of the new colleges. At the first mention of the college’s name, students sitting in the front row turned their backs on Salovey and held monopoly boards aloft as the fake $1 million bills floated down from the balcony for the second time.

Salovey explained that Johnson had asked the Corporation to “consider” Franklin in its naming decision but did not make it a condition of the donation. But Salovey also defended donors in general, saying that their generosity funds more than half of students’ educations.

“That’s part of what it means to be a university,” Salovey said.

Salovey’s defense of Benjamin Franklin College was greeted with laughter from the assembled students, who jeered when Salovey explained that “although he owned slaves,” Franklin eventually expressed support for abolition.

The discussion soon turned into a referendum on the University’s failure to engage with issues of race and racial history in the classroom.

Multiple students recommended a distributional requirement for ethnic studies — a demand activists pushed for in the fall — as a more appropriate way to educate students about history. One student lambasted the lack of faculty diversity, which Salovey later called “the single biggest problem” at the University.

“Yale does not currently have the resources to teach this painful history. We are hemorrhaging qualified, caring faculty of color,” Julianna Simms ’18 said from the balcony. “If you are sincere about this — and I’m not sure you are — you need to make these structural changes that will allow this conversation to happen in a healthy way and in a way that isn’t taxing on the mental and physical well-being of students of color on this campus.”

Simms added that the administration should increase support for departments that already engage in these areas and grant departmental status to the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program.

Salovey said the stagnant number of African-American and Hispanic faculty represents his biggest disappointment in the University.

“That is certainly upsetting to me,” he said. “You are a very diverse group of people. Your faculty are not.”

Still, the overarching theme of the event was frustration and exhaustion on the part of student activists, who questioned the point of speaking out when administrators have repeatedly ignored their stories and calls for change.

Students described the emotional toll the fall protests and subsequent conversations with administrators and Yale Corporation members have taken on them, saying they feel hounded by an unsympathetic mainstream media and abandoned by campus officials.

“We want you to give us an accountability plan for how Yale is going to address the fact that the media in the rest of the world is going to be laughing at black students for whining because we got one college,” Rianna Johnson-Levy ’17 said. “We are not being coddled.”

Salovey was quick to agree.

“I reject the way you, Yale students, are treated in a lot of the mainstream media,” Salovey responded. “I will fight always against this idea that somehow students of today are unappreciative or whiny or being coddled.”

History professor David Blight told the News after the event that the Corporation’s defense of the Calhoun decision as a necessary educational tool is “absolute nonsense,” because the University already supports initiatives to teach and write about slavery, including the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, which Blight directs.

Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who sat before the crowd but remained conspicuously silent throughout the event, said he understands students’ frustration at the nature of the decisions and the awkward timing of the announcement right before the end of the year.

“What is frustrating to me is that the things students were articulating today, they had articulated in November. They believed that they weren’t being listened to, and based on what the announcement looks like, I get where they are coming from,” Holloway said. “I completely recognize the confusion and frustration in the moment and understand how [the timing of the decision] makes it very complicated for people.”

He added that it was essential for Salovey to fulfill his role as president and explain the decisions to students.

“Given that this is where we are, I don’t know if there is an elegant answer beyond the fact that it will be hard,” Holloway said.

  • Jaymin Patel

    There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance involved here, as people anger at the influence of donations in influencing university decisions, while simultaneously enjoying all the luxuries of said donations. How is it do you think this university functions; how it manages to offer the best financial aid in the country; how it can offer endless fellowship and grants for independent study; how it ammases some of the best intellectual resources available??? It’s all donations and it’s always been this way since Elihu Yale’s namesake donation to the Collegiate School (also, pretty sure Elihu stepped nowhere near Connecticut his whole life and got the whole school named after him). It’s a simple reality of the system that Yale runs on. So unless you have an alternative to this system, there has to be a level of acceptance of the reality that this school runs on donations and that these donation do come with naming privileges.

    Also, what??
    “We want you to give us an accountability plan for how Yale is going to address the fact that the media in the rest of the world is going to be laughing at black students for whining because we got one college”

    Ok…we’re adults and we’re accountable for our own words, regardless of how the media or anyone else interprets them. Is someone seriously asking the University to act as some sort of filter between the students and the media? All while asserting that “We are not being coddled”? The irony here is astounding.

    • James Dawson

      Inconsistencies of thought and hypocrisy are common among youth brought up in a world where they don’t have the concerns of survival as many do. Top end of the 1st world all twisted up over problems of their own making.

  • carl

    On the student side, there’s more than a “bit of cognitive dissonance.”

    Even if naming a new college for Benjamin Franklin were a faustian
    bargain–and it is not!–then by that standard, every student at Yale
    has made the same bargain. (Perhaps that explains some of the anxiety!)

    The students who threw the paper money are blithely ignoring their own economically privileged position. Privileged, yes, because every student at Yale benefits directly from a $25 billion endowment and a multi-billion-dollar physical plant. That is way more than $1 million per student. It generates tens of thousands of dollars a year–money that lowers tuition, funds financial aid, pays faculty salaries, and keeps the lights on and the libraries open.

    And it was given to Yale by individual donors. Did no one notice that in return for $150 million, Commons just became the Schwarzman Center? There’s a lesson. The fine art of development is matching the University’s needs to donors’ capabilities and interests–and sometimes the bargain involves naming rights. Consider John Sterling, lawyer to the robber barons.

    When it comes to the new residential colleges, who suddenly made up the “rule” that the donor would have no say in the names? Let’s face it. At any other university in the country, these colleges would be named Charlie College and Johnson College. Yale is fortunate indeed to have an alum who was this self-effacing and this generous.

    As Jaymin Patel says, one does indeed wonder where students think Yale gets the resources that it uses to teach and train them. Let’s hope that this visually flashy protest will have no effect whatsoever on Yale’s ability to continue to raise the funds it needs.

  • Dom Greco

    I am confused and I am unable to see consistency and logic in the actions and words of the protesting college students. Perhaps someone can provide insight and perspective that would eliminate what I see as inconsistency and illogic in the behavior, attitudes, and opinions of the protesting college students.

    1 – The less educated lecturing the more educated –

    The college students admit by their actions in going to college that they need to be educated and that Yale University has the professional staff with the education, experience, and background that the students want to learn from.

    Yet at the same time the protesting students demonstrate against and ridicule the professional staff and claim that they, the students, know more and better than the professional staff.

    One has to wonder, if the students truly believe that they know more, and know better, then the University staff, why are they spending their time and money at the University?

    2 – Criticizing the donors but accepting the benefits –

    The protesting students complain about the influence of those who donate to the University, while at the same time the protesting students freely accept and utilize the benefits provided by those donors.

    If the protesting students are put off and repulsed by the actions of the donors, then why do not the protesting students refuse to accept any of the financial other benefits provided by the donors?

    3 – Demanding respect but giving others none –

    The protesting students demand that the professional staff at the University respect the students, all the while the protesting students show little or no respect for the professional staff at the University.

    If the protesting students believe that respect should be shown at the university, then do the protesting students believe that the professional staff should be more respectful of the students than the protesting students are of the professional staff?

    4 – Complaining about emotional distress but inflicting emotional distress on others –

    The protesting students complain that the professional staff cause the students “emotional distress”, while the protesting students treat the professional staff of the University in a way that causes the professional staff emotional distress.

    It would be most helpful to me, and I assume other readers, if it would be pointed out to us if the protesting students would put forth their explanation of if and how their actions and words can reasonably be considered as being both consistent and logical.

    In the absence of such an explanation from the protesting students I believe that the only reasonable conclusion that one can come to is one that is not favorable to the protesting students. Hopefully the protesting students will respond with a persuasive rational explanation.

    Otherwise, in the absence of such explanation for the protesting students I believe that the actions and words of the protesting students say a great deal about the protesting students, none of which is good.

    • asdf

      There is no logic. Only feelings, and a mad bid for attention.

    • Tim Steele

      very well summarized, sir, but perhaps a bit too much logic for these snowflakes to comprehend…

    • Jon

      Fantastic and well-reasoned response.

    • Yale GradStudent

      Their logic is that we are in a position of marginalization while others are in a position of privilege; therefore we are too powerless to emotional distress to anyone else. And if we do somehow manage to incite emotional distress in others, it doesn’t matter because their distress can’t possibly compare to the constant trauma we experience.

      In other words, none of their own rules apply to them.

  • Boott Spur

    “What is frustrating to me is that the things students were articulating today, they had articulated in November. They believed that they weren’t being listened to, and based on what the announcement looks like, I get where they are coming from,” Holloway said. “I completely recognize the confusion and frustration in the moment and understand how [the timing of the decision] makes it very complicated for people.”

    Wow. That is essentially insubordination from Holloway, an active attempt to place himself on the side of the “students,” presumably for whenever a vacancy opens up at the presidential level. I would fire him if I were Salovey.

    • Tim Steele

      agreed. In his position as Dean of Yale College, he really needs to do a better job of defending the process, and not necessarily the decisions themselves. Look, the entire Yale community had their say in this. Yale certainly didn’t rush to a hasty decision here on any of these issues, so stop with the pandering and make it clear that a process was followed and we all must respect it and move on, regardless of how we feel about the decisions.

      • Jawaralal_Schwartz

        face it. In the environment wracked by breathless, self-important students, he has some appearance of being weak in his role here. surely there are other worthy positions he could qualify for at the University or perhaps another institution of this type.

    • ldffly

      I’m not sure that he has even that much spine. He will probably end up at Duke.

  • Guy

    Thank goodness there were duct tape-covered mouths and T-shirts with slogans. Truth was spoken to power!

  • Tim Steele

    “We spent the entire year discussing this with you, and you turned around and did nothing,” said Yonas Takele ’17, a student in Calhoun who left the chapel in disgust soon after. “You had an opportunity to stand and do the right thing. It’s on you and want you to know that. I have no respect for you.”

    This student is just a tad more polite than screeching girl in the Silliman courtyard last fall. Notice how implicit in “do the right thing” is the obvious assumption that her desired outcome had to be the only way these issues could be resolved. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Salovey “did nothing.” I’m sure that he and members of the Yale Corporation spent countless hours discussing this with reasoned and careful thought. That doesn’t mean she has to agree with the decisions, but she does have to live with them.

    • Nancy Morris

      Some people assume that because they are consulted (regardless of whether they have any right to be consulted) on a decision, the consulting party is obliged to do as instructed by the consulted party. I don’t know why any intelligent person would or could honestly think such a thing, but it turns up surprisingly often in the darndest places. Perhaps the most pathetic version of the error is heard from those arguing that “meaningful” consultation requires that the consulted’s wish be granted. No. Just no.

      It’s tempting to say realizing that “advice” is not the same as, and does not imply any degree of, “consent,” is part of growing up. But a sharp three year old already grasps the distinction, so that’s not really what’s going on (at least beyond the toddler set).

      Strange it all is. Passing strange.

  • Tim Steele

    “Multiple students recommended a distributional requirement for ethnic studies — a demand activists pushed for in the fall — as a more appropriate way to educate students about history. One student lambasted the lack of faculty diversity, which Salovey later called “the single biggest problem” at the University.”

    poor Salovey. I fear that his efforts at appeasement in the fall will eventually backfire with this group of student rabble-rousers. He’s in a no-win situation. His only saving grace may be that it’s late in the school year.

  • 72bullldog

    After reading this article, I think the conclusion is obvious: Yale has got to do a better job of choosing students who are a bit more mature and who don’t feed on outrage so easily. If I were Salovey after this incident, I would have a word with the Dean of Admissions.

    • ldffly

      I think we all know what is going to happen. The College is going to expand come what may. The result will not be pleasant, especially for faculty.

  • dcheretic

    The country is laughing at the student activists, and rightfully so. These whining, coddled students need safe spaces because of Halloween costumes, “cultural appropriation,” and “microaggressions.” Thank goodness these students were not present for WWII, the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the AIDS epidemic, and other national crises that required a wellspring of personal strength to survive and persevere.

    Violent crime in black inner city neighborhoods has increased dramatically over the past two years. Hardly a day passes without multiple murders in Chicago, DC, and Detroit, events that prematurely end lives and devastate families and neighborhoods. Yet ensconced in the Ivory Tower, a handful of students believe that their well-being is threatened by a peer’s costume choice or ignorant comment. These students are the epitome of privilege and out of touch elitism.

    • NYcfp

      And… let’s be honest and admit most do not belong at Yale. They are there thanks to reverse discrimination.

      • Jawaralal_Schwartz

        Yes, most students of all types who are presently at Yale, do not deserve to be here. Sui generis…

        • NYcfp

          Nope. Not buying that generalization.

          The standards have been lowered to meet diversity goals.

  • frank

    Again, transfer is the option here…please transfer out after this semester…stay true to your feelings and words…transfer out to a happier, kinder, school

    • Akil

      Come to Princeton! 😉

  • hounten

    I’m starting to think the YDN is the problem. Its coverage of this situation over the past few days has been incredibly one-sided. If such a large percentage of the current students opposed the Calhoun name change, then why is there nearly no coverage of people with those viewpoints? “Community Condemns Decisions” implies that the Yale community, as a whole, has condemned the decisions, when we know that this is plainly not the case. It should not be the YDN’s place to advance an agenda in any place beyond the Opinion section.

    Either the YD’N’ needs to work harder to preserve some measure of objectivity and balance, or it needs to be up front about its lack of objectivity and another publication (or publications) needs to arise to present another viewpoint (the UK style of journalism).

    • Nancy Morris

      The YDN is a VERY big problem. It should be thoroughly reformed or just abolished. It’s a huge embarrassment to the University.

      • ldffly

        In recent years, even the command of the English language has deteriorated among YDN writers.

        • carl

          As an example, the lead item in April 29 Cross Campus: “[W]e take your leave.”

          Er, no . . . . Should read “we take _our_ leave.”

          • carl

            They fixed that. Can’t look illiterate over the summer.

            The ill-judged headlines (“community” does this, “community” does that) however, remain.

    • Boott Spur

      Where are the 45%? I’ve had a lot of sympathy for the YDN throughout the past few months, but its coverage in this instance, which has utterly ignored the 45 percent of students who by the YDN’s own polls want to keep Calhoun, has severely depleted my faith.

      If the YDN is the Guardian maybe someone should start up the Times. Nobody has that sort of money at Yale — save, perhaps, the Buckley Program. But the Buckley Program can’t start a non-ideological newspaper, so it’s all moot. It’s a problem without a viable solution.

  • NYcfp

    How many of the kids screaming the loudest earned their way into Yale? How many of you would have gained admission without affirmative action? How many of you pay tuition?

    Perhaps, you ought to be grateful for the opportunity afforded you. Perhaps, you should focus on learning and less on silly protests.

  • minnamuller

    Quick question: why are students standing on the stage in the picture? Shouldn’t they be giving Salovey a chance to “fulfill his role as president [by] explain[ing] the decisions to students” as per their demands?

  • td2016

    Salovey handled this very well. The protestors are few, loud, obnoxious and hugely self-important.

    Any Yale student who says to this president “I have no respect for you” over these naming matters does not deserve to be here and should not expect to do well in life anywhere else.

    There is clearly an admissions problem here. Something seriously needs to be done. The comments and behavior of many of these “activists” evidences a solipsism afflicts them that is really frightening. Yale has announced that it is increasing its scrutiny of character in its application process. Just in time.

    • NYcfp

      Character can’t be measured that easily on a paper application.

      What can, and should, be measured is achievement. If you stop admitting unqualified applicants… you will eliminate a large portion of the social justice warriors who are completely unable to do Ivy League level college work. Instead the SJW types focus in on grievances and identity victimhood.

      It is a travesty that Yale and other schools admit kids with pedestrian board scores in the name of the holy grail of diversity. But, when they do, they shouldn’t be surprised that these kids are frustrated and unable to do actual college work.

    • ldffly

      Admissions is the problem. I was not a legacy admit myself, but maybe the university needs to consider upping the legacy portion of admits.

    • Jawaralal_Schwartz

      U say Dr. Salovey “handled this really well.” I should say so. He is paid very handsomely, some might say excessively, to deliver a quality performance.

      • td2016

        Yes, and he performs in office very well indeed. Fortunately the Corporation understands that it is possible to get what one pays for, but very hard indeed to get and keep more than that. Only very foolish people think otherwise.

  • Tmgotech

    Don’t you think that it’s pretty ironic for these coddled students to protest at a school named for a prominent supporter of slavery and imperial English rule? All the while attending most likely due at least in part to the generosity of the millionaires and billionaires they hate so very much?

  • marcedward

    Nothing brings one pleasure more than seeing privileged crybabies throwing a public tantrum when they don’t get their way, it’s icing on the cake.
    One has to wonder, if getting into Yale was based on merit alone, how many would be up there screaming over this non issue.

    Just wait, one day they will be demanding we tear down the statue of Martin Luther King because “King was an avid smoker and that sends the wrong message to kids”.
    Oh, and they will burn the Harriet Tubman $20 bills because she wasn’t openly for marriage equality.

  • Kerryman

    The generosity of millionaires and billionaires, notwithstanding, the decision to keep the Calhoun name affixed to the college is one of the more tone deaf ones imaginable and shows a disrespect for the intelligence of the protesting students. Specifically, for President Salovey to try to sell this whole debacle as a learning experience beggars the imagination. Does he think people were born last night? A little green and naive behind the ears? Well, I was born at night, but not last night. Lose the name “Calhoun” and let’s get on educating the leaders of an America that has to save itself from itself. Also, an added bennie is that everyone can stop bitching about the whole thing, too.

    • NYcfp

      Get cracking Winston! You have history books to rewrite!

  • jprp

    How many of you students who are so concerned about the name of a building have put any effort into effecting a positive change in the deplorable state of New Haven school system and tutored a local kid? Stop complaining about your safe space and go out to an actually unsafe
    neighborhood and make a difference.

    And while you are at it, look at it from the viewpoint that Calhoun must be turning in his grave everything a student of color walks onto the campus. Outlook — looking out — is everything.