Four New Haven residents were arrested Friday afternoon during a “Change the Name” rally — a final push before the Yale Corporation voted on Saturday to rename Calhoun College.
The arrests came as part of a demonstration planned by Change the Name Coalition, a group of student and community activists that has held Friday protests since July demanding that Calhoun be renamed. Over 50 New Haven residents and Yale affiliates gathered at the Elm Street corner of the New Haven Green at 3 p.m. to listen to speeches from community activists and students.
At approximately 3:45 p.m., activists marched across Elm Street with a large banner to block traffic, and demonstrators sat down behind it. The New Haven Police Department issued a verbal warning at 3:53 p.m. Shortly after, officers arrested the four protesters who were barring traffic, citing misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
The four arrests came less than 24 hours before the University announced it was going to rename Calhoun after Grace Hopper GRD ’34. On the day of the announcement, those involved in the protest expressed happiness with the corporation’s decision to rename the college.
“I am just really grateful that the Corporation and the [Yale] president stepped up and did the right thing,” said Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change.
Matos was arrested at the protest alongside activists John Lugo, Anna Robinson-Sweet ’11 and Luna Gayeski. Matos previously helped lead other actions with the Change the Name Coalition, including the delivery of a care package to University President Peter Salovey that contained African-American literature and a letter requesting that Calhoun College be renamed.
Protest organizers did not ask the public to participate in the arrests, instead requesting that they “witness it in power.” Matos explained that she, Lugo, Robinson-Sweet and Gayeski had attended a training beforehand and did not expect others to join them in being arrested. In fact, she said, the coalition coordinated their arrests with the police beforehand, and representatives from the Yale Law School’s National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer Program were present at the demonstration.
As Gayeski was being arrested, they asked the police officer to loosen their cuffs. The officer immediately complied. The four arrestees were taken to the New Haven Police Station, where they called their lawyer Patricia Kane and were released the same day.
Matos explained that members of the New Haven community became involved with the push to change Calhoun’s name after Yale dining hall worker Corey Menafee was arrested last summer for breaking a window depicting slavery.
“This issue unites town and gown. We’ve been working with not just students but with Yale staff and faculty as well,” Matos told the News. “To me, that’s a model of what’s possible.”
Still, she said credit for the name change must go to student activists, particularly students of color, who have been fighting for the change for years. Lugo, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción, echoed Matos and credited student activism for what he described as a victory for the whole New Haven community.
Matos added that she hopes Saturday’s decision is a sign of the Corporation’s willingness to listen to both student and community voices.
Those who spoke at the rally talked about the negative impacts of having a building dedicated to a white supremacist such as John C. Calhoun, class of 1804.
“I want to be treated as a man, and as a young black man walking around New Haven I would appreciate if the Calhoun name was one I did not have to face,” said Justin Farmer, a student activist from Southern Connecticut State University.
Farmer said Yale must go beyond simply changing the name, however, and do more to honor black history and to increase equity in the Elm City. Other attendees at the rally agreed that changing the name is not enough, citing divestment from fossil fuels and private prisons as additional steps the Yale Corporation should take.
Though Menafee himself was not present at the protest, local philanthropist Wendy Hamilton read a speech he wrote for it in which he assured protesters he was with them in spirit.
“Here at Yale we believe in truth and enlightenment,” the speech read. “We are here to lift each other up and set an example for the world to follow. We want the name Calhoun removed from our college and replaced with one that’s prideful and respectable.”