The Yale community reacted to last week’s report from the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming with a mix of optimism and skepticism.
On the whole, students interviewed by the News said they believe the principles outlined in the report set the stage for the renaming of Calhoun College. Others, however, said both the report and the new task force on Calhoun are bureaucratic prolongations of an already drawn-out process.
In his Friday email to the campus community, Salovey wrote he hoped “the principles announced today will prove useful not only to our community but to others as well.”
After a tumultuous year of racial protests on campus that garnered national media attention, the name of Calhoun College has set off a campuswide and national discussion on the meaning of symbols tied to racist history and ideology. Amid the debate on Calhoun, students and faculty have also raised concerns about a number of other residential college namesakes including Samuel Morse, class of 1810, and Benjamin Franklin.
Still, students on both sides of the naming debate said they suspected the report would have little impact on naming debates beyond Calhoun.
The release of the report from the CEPR represents the latest step in an ongoing naming saga which some students claim has gone on too long. Four months after the Yale Corporation decided to keep the name of Calhoun college, Salovey formed the committee, which some students interviewed said appeared to reopen the discussion.
“As a general administration skeptic, I was nevertheless deeply impressed by the principles laid out, as they seem to balance many of the concerns people had,” said Bernard Stanford ’18. “I do think that [the report] increases the odds of Calhoun being renamed substantially, because by establishing set principles, it makes a slippery-slope scenario where more colleges get their names changed less likely.”
Stanford added that many students and alumni fear a Calhoun name change would set a precedent for changing other college names, a fear which Stanford said might be allayed by the report’s principles. Stanford said these principles, and especially the criterion of a “principal legacy,” seem to indict Calhoun in particular and might let the names of other buildings remain, despite their controversial namesakes.
Stanford cited the name of Morse College as an instance of a building that the principles outlined in the report would likely protect from renaming, despite Samuel Morse’s history of anti-Catholic views, since Morse’s principal legacy was inventing the telegraph. Stanford also used the example of Jonathan Edwards College, whose namesake defended slavery but whose principal legacy is his religious preaching.
“In fact, the ‘principal legacy’ plus the ‘major contributions’ caveat make it seem almost as if the report’s principles were carefully established to make a cutout for Calhoun and him alone, while protecting the names of almost everyone else,” he said.
Lauren Lee ’20, a student in Calhoun, was also optimistic about the impact of the principles, saying that she believed the committee’s report offered a more balanced perspective and nuanced discussion than earlier conversations.
Kyle Tierney ’17, vice president of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, said that he thought the report was much more modest than many students were expecting. He did not think it would set the stage for more renamings, though he did believe it meant the end of Calhoun College’s name. Although Tierney said other universities may use Yale’s report for their own naming discussions, he did not think the report would lead to any significant change beyond Calhoun.
“Perhaps other [schools] will look to it but I do not believe it will lead them to rename anything consequential, such as leading to something like Rhodes statue being removed from Oxford,” Tierney said, adding that other colleges might use the report to justify names in place that are not “completely egregious.”
Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator Anthony D’Ambrosio ’18 spoke on behalf of the organization, saying that while the decision certainly does not guarantee any particular naming outcome, Dwight Hall believes the report marks a step toward naming Calhoun. He emphasized that Dwight Hall’s Executive Committee had already firmly established the fact that it believed Yale ought to rename Calhoun College.
Yale College Council President Peter Huang ’18 said that he thought the report engaged well with student concerns voiced during the protests.
“By highlighting the theme of how some symbols place a heavier emotional burden on some groups more than other groups, the report clearly lays out the main source of tension for the different Yale community members,” Huang said. “Students, alumni, faculty, staff and other members of the Yale community may disagree on the justifiability of any emotional turmoil.”
Although he did not state whether he believed the report would definitely lead to a name change, Huang said that the name Calhoun will certainly be placed under a more rigorous and structured “stress test” than it had received last year.
Other students, however, were more critical of the report and the principles it outlined.
Considering that the renaming committee was created shortly after the formal announcement that Yale would keep Calhoun’s name, students were wary of Friday’s report and the mechanisms for change that Salovey outlined in his Friday email.
Dennis Vu ’19 said that he did not think anything would actually change as a result of the report and its principles.
“Based on what I understood of Salovey’s email, the only thing that changed was that there is now an official process for asking buildings to be renamed,” Vu said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that these requests will ever be approved though. This seems like just a PR move.”
Vu also said that since the report struck him more as a set of recommendations than a rigid rulebook, he also did not think the report would have an enduring legacy at Yale.
“I don’t think they will have any lasting impact, unless a historical building at Yale is actually renamed, which is doubtful if Calhoun isn’t,” Vu added.
Many students agreed that there should be a well-defined process for renaming buildings, though others said these choices should be out of students’ control.
Stanford said that he would welcome a more defined process for the choosing of new names. He added that the principles in the report just released also seem to serve as a guide for new names, which he suggested should come from individuals “whose legacy aligns with the mission of the University, who have contributed to the University and whose selection can help foster community.”
However, Tierney said that he believed the names should be decided by the Yale Corporation alone.
“If students propose an idea for a name with particular merit I believe the Yale Corporation should consider it, yet the Corporation should still have the final say,” Tierney said. “This allows the Corporation to leverage alumni and donors for Yale’s benefit as a whole.”
Tierney also welcomed the involvement of faculty in the process of determining which buildings could be renamed, as long as an intellectually diverse group of faculty were allowed to contribute.
“Using only faculty thinking from left-leaning humanities professors would be a mistake,” he added.
D’Ambrosio, however, said he hoped to see future decision-making bodies “prioritizing” student opinion and consultation as they determine whether to rename certain buildings on campus.
Vu, while noting that the voices of learned scholars could add gravitas to a given opinion in the eyes of the Yale Corporation, said that he did not think faculty voices were quite as important as those of students and alumni who may have actually lived in Calhoun.
“It is, after all, because of these students and alumni that the College itself even matters,” Vu added.
Stanford agreed, saying that although the faculty is an important part of the Yale community, decisions like these fall beyond their purview.
“We already have people in the administration specially designated to run Yale,” Stanford said.