In the design for this year’s Calhoun College freshman T-shirts, there is a startling omission: the word “Calhoun.”
The naming debate that consumed Calhoun last year has touched nearly every aspect of life in the college, from orientation events to dorm-room debates to the scenery in the dining hall. And now — three months after University President Peter Salovey announced that the college would keep its name despite student-led protests calling for it to be changed — the fallout from that controversy has influenced the design of the traditional freshman T-shirt given to all the college’s incoming students during Camp Yale.
The new design, which Calhoun administrators showed to the News, is simple: An image of a phoenix twisted into the shape of a “C” adorns the left breast of a plain navy-blue shirt. Another T-shirt with an even more explicitly political message — the slogan “_____ College” set against a white background — will be on sale in the college office, according to Head of Calhoun College Julia Adams.
“There will be some upperclassmen who wish that they had the freshman T-shirts,” Adams told the News earlier this week. “They recognize a liminal moment, and provide a really snazzy T-shirt for the freshmen.”
A team of Calhoun students pitched the shirt ideas last spring in response to an email from Adams soliciting input on ways to unify students in the aftermath of a sometimes-heated debate.
Anand Swaminathan ’19 — who produced the shirt designs with fellow Calhoun sophomores Devon Merlette ’19 and Will Kortum ’19 — said Adams came up with the phoenix idea herself in order to pay tribute to a period of “rebirth” in a college community rocked by controversy. Merlette said the overall design is intended to offer incoming students a non-confrontational introduction to the naming controversy.
“We wanted to create something that incoming freshmen could immediately identify with without feeling that they had to pick sides on the naming issue,” Merlette said. “We wanted the T-shirt to have a light, subtle touch without the baggage.”
Still, the political symbolism of the new design is hard to miss. After the naming decision last spring, many student protesters in Calhoun wore their old freshman T-shirts — “Calhoun” in yellow letters splashed across a blue background — with the name covered by tape.
“The idea that not everybody thinks Calhoun should be the name of the college affected the way we thought about the shirt,” Calhoun College Council president Anna Sophia Young ’17 said. “In college, it’s not just one side versus another … it’s an encouragement of everyone’s voice.”
It has become increasingly certain that the debate over the future of Calhoun will continue into the upcoming academic year. Earlier this month, Salovey announced that a new student-faculty taskforce — the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming — will likely re-evaluate the Calhoun decision in the coming months.
And the prospect of renewed debate has prompted discussion within Calhoun over the proper way to introduce freshmen to the controversy. The freshman move-in banner on Old Campus will be emblazoned with the letters “CC” rather than the full college name.
Isaiah Genece ’17, the college’s head freshman counselor and a vocal participant in the naming debate last year, told the News he will wear the new freshman shirt proudly — and offer himself as a sounding board for students on both sides of the naming issue.
“We are this new community, this new ‘formerly known as Calhoun’ community,” Genece said. “I’m called more as a person of color than as a FroCo, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to impose anything on them.”
And, despite the new shirt design, freshmen will still receive their fair share of traditional Calhoun merchandise.
Adams — who said the college is still working on a “retro” shirt that will also omit the word “Calhoun” — told the News she expects the water bottles and drawstring bags given out to freshmen will still feature the college’s name.
“We are a space of contradictions — nor do we have an unlimited budget,” she said. “People may get pure contradiction, and that’s okay. We are what we are.”