The Friday release of a 24-page report outlining renaming principles for the University has New Haven activists feeling optimistic about the possible renaming of Calhoun College.
The Committee to Establish Principles for Renaming, established in August, was formed after opposition from both the student body and local activist groups to the University’s decision in April to retain the namesake of John. C. Calhoun, class 1804, an outspoken proponent of slavery. The committee’s report outlines four principles through which all future renaming proposals will be considered and presents a detailed analysis of the naming of Calhoun College, including the namesake’s biography and the many incidents of complaints against the college’s name.
City residents and activist groups have been protesting the residential college’s name every Friday since Corey Menafee, a Yale dining hall worker who resigned but was rehired this July after smashing a stained glass window that depicted slavery, brought renewed energy to the Calhoun renaming debate.
Menafee said that having read the report, he believes the University will ultimately choose to remove Calhoun as the college’s namesake.
“At least in my opinion I believe the legacy of John C. Calhoun is definitely at a conflict with the mission of the University which is ‘truth and enlightenment,’” Menafee said. “Calhoun was not about enlightenment, he was about oppressing people and exploiting them which is a direct contradiction to the University’s mission.”
He added that removing Calhoun as a namesake does not erase or distort history, saying Calhoun’s pro-slavery stance is well-documented in history books and widely known by the public. Furthermore, Menafee said he believes removing Calhoun’s name from a residential college will break some of the stigmas surrounding Ivy League universities and their relationship to racism.
But Menafee expressed concern that since Calhoun’s views were accepted during his lifetime, the Yale administration might not rename Calhoun. According to the report, whether the namesake’s major legacy was significantly contested during its time and place in history will be taken into consideration for renaming.
Kica Matos, a leader of New Haven’s Change the Name Coalition and the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, said she believes the report is a step in the right direction.
“I thought it was really a thoughtful, well written document, and I think the principles that were laid out … are a very thoughtful set of principles and guidelines,” she said. “[I] really appreciated the depth to which they explored Calhoun and his legacy.”
She said she received copies of the report from multiple people, including committee members, on Friday morning. However, she said there was no effort on the part of University President Peter Salovey to communicate the new guidelines to the New Haven community, and that she finds it “deeply troubling” that Salovey does not give weight to the views of New Haven residents. Previously, New Haven residents have found trouble with the fact that no community members not affiliated with the University serve on the committee.
Matos said the Change the Name Coalition will continue its advocacy efforts until Calhoun’s name is no longer associated with Yale or New Haven. Like Menafee, Mato said she believes the principles established by the committee, if applied to Calhoun College, should result in the college’s renaming.
According to Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor, University administrators wanted to approach the renaming issue through a “scholarly process” to create principles by which all future renaming proposals should be addressed.
She added that by designating three advisors — history professor John Gaddis, African American studies professor Jacqueline Goldsby GRD ’98 and Calhoun alumnus G. Leonard Baker ’64 — to work exclusively on the question of Calhoun’s renaming, the University is in fact fast-tracking the process.
This group of three appointees will take into account both input received from campus and New Haven activists as well as the committee members’ own fields of expertise when making a recommendation to the Yale Corporation, O’Connor said.
“It was influenced really by the fact that this is an academic institution,” O’Connor said. “So it really was not influenced by outside activists.”
According to Salovey’s email, the Corporation is expected to make its decision on renaming Calhoun in early 2017.