The Yale Corporation has chosen to retain Calhoun College, but for many, the discussion is far from over.
On Wednesday, University President Peter Salovey announced that John C. Calhoun, former senator and vice president and an ardent proponent of slavery, will remain the namesake of Calhoun College — to the frustration and criticism of many in the community. Hundreds of students and faculty members gathered on Friday outside the college to unofficially rechristen it “the college formerly known as Calhoun.” Speakers at the Friday rally — who carried Calhoun crests with new namesakes written above them — emphasized that the debate is not over.
Student activists said Friday that they will engage with the Yale community in the coming months to select their own, unofficial name for Calhoun College. Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, an affiliate of Next Yale, said the Corporation will ultimately adopt that name.
“This debate is not over — it is just beginning,” said Medina-Tayac, who is a staff reporter for the News. “We’re going to have more community discussions about what that name should be, and it will stick. The administration will adopt the name — How could they not? There is so much student power taking place here.”
As these student activists work to select their own name for the college, Salovey told the News that he expects the Corporation will “discuss” the namesake again eventually, but did not specify whether such a conversation could lead to a change.
“I don’t believe that this represents the last time we will ever talk about names on this campus, including Calhoun,” Salovey said.
Dianne Lake ’16, who led protesters in song at the rally on Friday, said that from the perspective of many students, the Calhoun debate is ongoing. She added that the Corporation should reconsider its decision, as there are many “wonderful options” for its members to choose from.
Some faculty members remain outspokenly opposed to Calhoun College. Matthew Jacobson, a professor of African American Studies, sent an open letter to Salovey on Friday in which he said “the Calhoun College decision is monstrously unthinking in its dismissal of student of color perspectives.” History, American Studies and African American Studies professor Glenda Gilmore called the decision a “grievous mistake” in a recent column published in The New York Times.
At the rally on Friday, History Professor David Blight — who specializes in the Civil War — said he was impressed that students are establishing a renaming process rather than choosing a new name immediately. He said their efforts could lead the Corporation to reassess its decision.
“It is entirely possible the University will reconsider in the coming months,” Blight said. “And I think they should reconsider.”
Head of Calhoun College Julia Adams said she too expects the conversation about the college’s namesake to continue.
“The decision is for right now, and right now might literally mean right now,” Adams said. “It certainly is not closed symbolically, as we can see from this demonstration today. The question may be closed legally at this very moment, but it’s obviously very much still open from the perspective of the Yale community. I’m a historian, and these conversations are never closed.”
The Corporation will next meet sometime over Commencement weekend, which spans from May 20 to May 23.