Like many other class of 2020 Yalies, I closely followed the news of the campus protests to rename Calhoun College and read about, ultimately, the decision by the administration not to do so. This controversy concerned me as an incoming Yale student, but I would never have guessed that come June 22 — the day residential college assignments were released — I would be plunged into the middle of the naming controversy as an actual member of Calhoun College. No longer able to stand on the sidelines, I became someone who would inevitably have emotional ties to this college, and with this came a disheartening realization that a stigma against Calhoun exists.
The day after residential college assignments were released, my Facebook feed was flooded with jubilant posts from my peers, each announcing loudly that they had been sorted into the “best residential college.” When I told one classmate that I was in Calhoun, I was met with a sharp comment filled with disgust, suggesting we no longer talk anymore. I can take a joke, and I understand sarcasm as well, but in the tone of the response there was an underlying assumption that somehow, by association, I supported the views of John C. Calhoun.
The more I thought about this person’s comment and how it made me instinctively feel — like I didn’t belong, like my integrity was being accused — the more I felt that I had been blamed for something I had absolutely no control over. An algorithm had randomly sorted me into the residential college. The Sorting Hat from Harry Potter did not look deep into my soul and find that I was a secret bigot.
What started as anger turned into sadness and helplessness. I want to unconditionally be proud of my college, my home away from home, just as everyone else is able to do. I should not have to worry about whether the content of my character is being scrutinized when I throw on a Calhoun sweatshirt. I should not have to feel that I am being given an ultimatum — to either choose to shun the home that was given to me or be complicit in a supremacist’s namesake.
This air of shame and negativity is not representative of the people I’ve met so far who call themselves “Hounies.” From my FroCo to my HounSibs and my Asian American Cultural Center Peer Liaison, Calhoun has shown me unbelievable warmth and support before I’ve even set foot on campus. This community is strong and proactive in trying to help new Hounies make sense of the Calhoun dynamic on campus. I’ve seen for myself CC ’20s take their residential college assignment with incredible grace and positivity, looking to this learning experience as a means of crucial social justice and activism. After all, this hope to grow, learn and make an impact is undoubtedly an important reason as to why we all chose to come to Yale.
This column is by no means a call for complacency following the administration’s decision this past April regarding Calhoun. But as a new student with fresh perspective, I feel this sensitive and emotion-ridden conversation has unhinged and warped the way people think about Calhoun College as part of the broader community. We should recognize the clear distinction between the passionate, fair students who call themselves “Hounies” and the negative association of the residential college name. As of right now, I’m not seeing this distinction.
So let this be a reminder to the Yale community and the class of 2020 that the majority of students in Calhoun are your allies, not your enemies. Be empathetic. Be kind. Remember that we’re the ones living under a roof with the name of a person who called for exclusion, prejudice and the enslavement of an entire people. We even more than others understand the pain and frustration involved in this challenging debate. Most of all, we’re people too. Once we remember this, we can work in harmony to call for real change.
Isabella Cheng is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .