Last year, many students and campus organizations — including the News — called on the University to change the name of Calhoun College. University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation chose to retain it.
Under pressure from faculty, staff and students, Salovey then asked a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming to formulate general guidelines for issues of renaming, reopening the Calhoun question. Today, Salovey released its findings.
We at the News have read the Committee’s report and reached a unanimous conclusion: the Calhoun name should go. We urge the University not just to abide by its own principles by changing the name, but to make that decision during the Yale Corporation’s December meeting.
Here is our analysis in brief:
First, the Committee says that renaming should hinge on whether the “principal legacy” of a namesake contradicts Yale’s mission of fostering an “ethical, interdependent and diverse community.” According to the report, “A principal legacy of racism and bigotry would contradict this goal.” John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, is most remembered for promoting slavery as a positive good.
Second, the Committee asks whether this principal legacy was “significantly contested in the time and space in which the namesake lived.” As laid out in the report, two years after Connecticut abolished slavery in 1848, Yale’s leaders distanced themselves from Calhoun’s racist views and chose not to honor him on campus.
Third, the Committee asks whether Yale, at the time of naming, honored a namesake for reasons at odds with the University’s mission. In 1933, the University based its decision on Calhoun’s record as a statesman, not as a proponent of slavery. But we would be astonished if the University relied on this lukewarm justification to retain the namesake. The motivations of Yale in 1933, then composed of a white male student body, should no longer hold sway.
Finally, the Committee calls for considering the role a building plays in forming community on campus. While some alumni may identify with the Calhoun namesake, the report correctly identifies residential colleges as “paradigm examples” of buildings that shape community. It continues: “It is difficult to encourage the formation of community around a namesake with a principal legacy fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University. Such names may fail to do the work of fostering community. Moreover, assigning students without their choice to a particular building or residential college whose namesake has a principal legacy fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University essentially requires students to form their University communities around such a name. These considerations offer strong reasons to alter a name.”
Based on these principles, Calhoun must change. His principal legacy is one of slavery and secession. His mentors at Yale dissociated themselves from his bigoted views. An Old Yale, from which the University has sought to move away, chose to honor him. And our community now suffers as a result.
Yet the University has charged a new task force — another committee — to formulate a recommendation on Calhoun’s future. While we respect the three members chosen, we’re disappointed by the University’s lack of urgency — especially given the sustained efforts of student activists and the emotional toll this debate has had on students of color. The Calhoun conversation has gone on for decades; now, we face more bureaucracy, months of uncertainty and distant decision-makers.
We’ve been told to expect a decision early next year, likely after the Corporation’s February or April meeting. But the governing body is also set to convene in the coming days. After more than a year of listening sessions and internal debate, board members have the information they need to make a decision. They know what the task force will eventually recommend — that the University rename Calhoun, which the two professors on the committee previously supported in an open letter. If the Corporation truly intends to act more transparently, its members should rename Calhoun College before semester’s end.
Last spring, the News called the University’s retention of Calhoun a missed opportunity. We expect them to not make the same mistake twice. It’s time to change the name, and change it quickly.