Nearly 200 Connecticut residents and Yale affiliates spoke out against the name of Calhoun College Friday afternoon.
The rally started at the New Haven Green and later moved to Woodbridge Hall, where the participants delivered a letter to University President Peter Salovey demanding the renaming of Calhoun. Friday’s rally served as the culmination of a series of weekly protests led by New Haven activist group Unidad Latina en Acción since July. This time, a coalition of over 40 activist groups from both New Haven and the University collaborated to organize the protest, including organizations such as New Elm City Dream, Citywide Youth Coalition and the Yale Black Law Students Association.
“Do you go off and build Hitler colleges?” Briam Timko, a New Haven resident and rally leader, said. “We remember our history but we don’t want to exemplify the parts we regret.”
Activists gave speeches on the New Haven Green for nearly an hour before marching down College, Chapel and York streets, bearing banners calling on Yale to change the name, on their way to Beinecke Plaza.
Speeches continued just outside of Woodbridge Hall, until protesters rang the building’s doorbell slightly after 4 p.m. holding the letter for Salovey. Salovey did not come out to greet the crowd, but Director of Administrative Affairs Pilar Montalvo received the letter to chants of “We want Salovey.” Montalvo told the protesters that Salovey was occupied in a meeting.
Corey Menafee, a dining hall worker who was arrested this summer after smashing a window depicting two slaves in Calhoun, spoke at the rally and thanked protesters for fighting to improve the University.
“We no longer want the name Calhoun to cast a shadow on our University,” Menafee said.
Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, characterized Menafee’s actions as the catalyst for community action against Calhoun’s name and added that Menafee helped show the greater New Haven community that the college’s name is not just offensive to students.
Matos called the protesters a “rainbow” of the New Haven community, explaining that they came from a plethora of backgrounds, including Yale students, workers and professors as well as community members and activists. What brings together these individuals, Matos said, is that they are all united against Calhoun. In fact, Matos said, the protests will continue until Yale changes the name — a sentiment echoed by community activist Barbara Fair.
Protesters at the event also expressed dissatisfaction with the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, a newly created committee at Yale tasked with setting principles for when a historical name on campus should be changed. Megan Fountain ’07, an organizer with ULA, said she believes the committee has been too procedural and has not allowed students or workers to express their feelings on Calhoun’s name.
New Haven resident Paul Hammer SOM ’85 expressed similar doubts about the committee’s efficiency.
“I think Yale is managing this whole process very poorly,” Hammer told the News. “That committee should take two weeks, not two years.”
Marie Gaye ’20 said committee representatives should expand to include blue-collar University workers, as they are as invested in creating a better Yale as the rest of the University population. Gaye signed an open letter earlier this month that nominated Yale dining employee Shirley Lawrence to represent Yale’s blue-collar workers on the committee. Since then, the letter has received more than 800 student and 150 blue-collar employee signatures.
Similarly, a petition created last November by three Yale Divinity School students on the activist social networking website Care2.com asking Salovey and the Yale Corporation to rename Calhoun College has begun to recirculate on social media. It now has nearly 17,500 supporters from across the globe, with new signees every hour. The petition’s creators could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
Though the rally focused on changing the Calhoun name, some protesters said simply renaming the college is not enough.
Stephen Kobasa DIV ’72 said simply erasing the name is insufficient, and that instead Yale must acknowledge its “complicity” in a long history of injustice. He added that as an alumnus, he is deeply concerned with the University’s decision to keep the name, because his Yale degree is part of his identity.
Mojique Tyler ’19 said Yale has slavery physically ingrained in its walls through racist stone and glasswork in its colleges. In fact, 10 medallions from glass panes in Calhoun College and two from Branford College were removed over the summer after the Menafee incident as the recommendation from the University’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces.
Economic disparities between Yale and the New Haven community were also a topic at the rally. Vanesa Suarez, a Yale dining hall worker, said in a place of “institutional racism” it came as no surprise that fellow worker Menafee felt compelled to break the window. She said the blue shirt and black pants she is required to wear to work are a constant reminder of her working-class status.
Others at the protest expressed hope that the University could overcome its history. Yale American Studies professor Charles Musser ’73 said there are multiple instances in Yale’s history when it had a positive influence on abolitionism and social justice, and that those moments should be honored instead of Calhoun. He highlighted the 113 Yale graduates who died fighting for the Union during the Civil War, and added that they “must have rolled over in their graves” when Calhoun College was named.
“After we change the name, they can rest in peace,” Musser said.