The name “GRACE MURRAY HOPPER” appeared in black permanent marker on the sign outside the college’s front entrance on Saturday afternoon, shortly after Yale announced that Calhoun College would be renamed in honor of Grace Hopper GRD ’34.
Another message was scrawled beneath the makeshift Hopper nameplate: the word “VICTORY,” followed by two exclamation points.
But already, the question of whose victory this really is — whether it marks the culmination of months of student activism, the successful execution of a newly developed renaming process or some combination of the two — has led to conflicting narratives about the name change from undergraduates and administrators.
“No action by anyone precipitated this or forced it in any way at all,” said Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor in a press briefing Saturday morning. “The decision was taken on principle and was the right thing to do in principle.”
University President Peter Salovey reiterated that point in an interview with the News, saying “there was very little talk around the table of political considerations” when the Yale Corporation met to vote on the naming issue on Friday. In a nearly 2,000-word memo announcing the decision to the Yale community, Salovey made no mention of the months of student and faculty advocacy that preceded the University’s renaming decision, although he did note that “community input was indispensable” to the choice of Hopper as Calhoun’s replacement.
At a celebration of the decision in the Calhoun courtyard on Saturday, Eli Ceballo-Countryman ’18 — a student in Hopper who led last year’s protests against the name Calhoun — said the University unfairly downplayed the role of student activism in pushing for the name change.
“It’s really [an attempt] to appear like they moralistically made a decision to move the country forward, when people who have been following this know that’s not true,” said Ceballo-Countryman, as an impromptu dance party continued in the background.
Indeed, local activists involved in the “change the name” movement, which led weekly protests outside the college for the better part of six months, credited student-activists for their efforts in keeping pressure on the administration.
And former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57, who frequently interacted with student activists during his time as an administrator in the 1960s and ’70s, told the News that the decision illustrates how “student activism can assist the University as it molds the best possible outcome.”
Still, in an interview with the News, Adams suggested that both narratives about the renaming are compatible, as the CEPR report reflects the same concerns that motivated students over the last 18 months.
“Principles and activism aren’t mutually exclusive,” she said.
Alex Zhang ’18, a student in Hopper who helped lead the campaign for a name change last year, said the University now seems to be trying to show that “the process was rigid, orderly and perfect, like something they could control,” when in fact the change was contingent on significant student and faculty activism.
The debate over Calhoun, which has divided the Yale community since at least the 1970s, picked up steam in the summer of 2015 after the shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked nationwide conversations about racially charged symbols. In a tumultuous fall semester, student activists made the renaming of Calhoun one of the central planks of their movement, marching to Salovey’s home on Hillhouse Avenue in the dead of night to call for a name change, among other demands.
After the Corporation elected to the keep the Calhoun name last April, students held an unofficial renaming ceremony on Cross Campus. And when African-American dining hall worker Corey Menafee was arrested for smashing a slavery-themed window in the college dining hall, students joined forces with New Haven activist groups like Unidad Latina en Acción to protest his treatment and demand a name change.
“The activism was very informed and it very much deepened over time, giving input to the president, to the Corporation,” said Head of Hopper Julia Adams, who has championed students’ role in the debate throughout the renaming process.
Last August, in the wake of intense student and faculty backlash against the original renaming decision, Salovey formed the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, which he tasked with outlining broad guidelines for all renaming disputes, starting with Calhoun. After the CEPR released its report in December, a separate task force applied the guidelines to the Calhoun dispute and formally recommended renaming the college in a letter to Salovey and the Corporation. The Corporation formally approved that recommendation on Friday, and selected Hopper’s name from a pool of potential replacements submitted to the University over the last year and a half.
Ryan Gittler contributed reporting.