A typically non controversial event turned political on Saturday when two performers at Yale’s annual Spring Fling concert called on the University to rename Calhoun College.
Elisia Ceballo-Countryman ’18 — a leader of the student activist group Next Yale — said that prior to Saturday’s concert, headline artist Janelle Monae met with students for roughly an hour at the home of Branford College Head Betsy Bradley. They discussed recent naming decisions at Yale, such as the retention of Calhoun College — named for white supremacist and fierce slavery advocate John C. Calhoun, class of 1804 — and the way forward for students. Monae also met with members of the Yale Black Women’s Coalition after the concert.
Many students have criticized University President Peter Salovey’s administration for waiting to release the naming decisions until the end of the semester, seeing the timing as an attempt to inhibit student activism. Naming controversies impacted the concert nonetheless. During her performance, Monae decried the decision to retain the namesake of Calhoun College and offered her support in the fight against the University’s decision. Vince Staples, another spring fling performer, spoke out against Calhoun as well.
“We need the president of Yale to listen to this. Everybody in positions of authority — we are hurting. These people are hurting. Change the name. Make some changes to reflect everybody,” Monae said at the concert.
In response to Monae’s public comments, Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said the free exchange of ideas is both welcome and important at Yale. O’Connor added that she was glad students had the chance to meet with Monae privately before the concert began.
Tobias Holden ‘17, chair of the spring committee and an attendee of the pre-concert meeting, said the committee chose to bring Monae to Yale because she is both a singer and an activist. He added that music has power, and Monae utilized that power on Saturday in a way that resonated with students.
Holden said the private meeting included roughly 15 to 20 students and that Monae set up the meeting before arriving on campus.
“She knew what has been going on at Yale and asked to meet with students to understand the situation, to see how they were feeling and to ask how she could help,” Holden said. “She wanted to get a sense emotionally of where students were at and what the interplay had been between students and administrators.”
During the concert, Monae pointed out that the stage on which she was performing sat atop land once occupied by the Quinnipiac Tribe, adding that she could not imagine living in a building named after a “white supremacist,” in reference to the nearby Calhoun College. She called on all students to fight the Calhoun naming decision.
“We all have to take care of each other as human beings,” Monae said. “So when you see something wrong, for all my fans who love me, I’m requesting, if you see something wrong here no matter what color you are we need your support. If you look through history nothing happened without allies. We need you to be allies to those who are being treated with any injustice that you see. Speak up, speak out. It’s all of our problem.”