New Haven activists who fought to change the name of Calhoun College over the past eight months have expressed joy at the Yale Corporation’s recent decision to rename the residential college after Grace Hopper GRD ’34.
The Change the Name Coalition, made up of New Haven activists from various organizations including the Center for Community Change and Unidad Latina en Acción, has been protesting Calhoun since last summer. The community movement was sparked by the arrest of Yale dining hall worker Corey Menafee, who was fired after breaking a glass window in Calhoun that depicted slaves working in a field. Community members who rallied in his defense continued the fight to have the name changed, even after charges were dropped and Menafee was rehired. The group has since then held Friday protests and organized actions such as a civil disobedience demonstration and delivering letters to University President Peter Salovey.
“I am proud of Peter Salovey and the board of trustees for being responsible and taking the energy to come to the decision,” Menafee told the News. “And I am just grateful for God for making this decision happen.”
Menafee, who said he was delighted when he received word about the renaming decision, pointed out that change does not happen overnight, and added that he thinks Salovey and the Yale Corporation were strategic and patient in their approach to renaming. He said he applauds the steps the Corporation took that led to its final verdict — namely creating overarching guidelines and establishing a separate committee to examine the Calhoun case.
Optimistic about the future collaboration of student and community activists, Menafee said he hopes the renaming decision will encourage this partnership to grow and forge a tighter bond between the Elm City and the University.
“At Yale University, we pretty much set standards for the rest of the country as well as other universities,” Menafee said. “I think in that respect, I hope other universities and Yale will continue on that process to rename in a proper way.”
Kica Matos, a leader of the Change the Name Coalition, said she was “overwhelmed” and fought tears of joy when she heard the news just a few minutes after 2 p.m. from a Yale student who called to tell her.
She credited the activism of Yale students, particularly students of color, and echoed Menafee in saying that change does not come easily or quickly and that it only happens when members of a community come together to push for change.
“We added our voices and our efforts to the efforts of students, and created this beautiful coalition that was representative of the community,” she said.
Matos said community members have an obligation to continue to advocate for what is best for members of the Yale and New Haven communities. She added that she feels “comforted” that the University and Corporation listened to activist and student voices and did the “right thing.”
John Lugo, an organizer with the coalition, echoed Matos in crediting student activists with Saturday’s “victory.”
However, other community members emphasized the role New Haven residents played.
In an email to New Haven community members, prominent activist and city resident Catherine John credited a wide range of local leaders with defending Menafee, raising community awareness about Calhoun’s legacy and planning and attending protests.
“Yes, we can all agree that the Yale students shared their opinion on the name, but in truth, once the community was activated, the action bore its own wings,” John wrote in the email. “I want you all to know, this is not the end, we changed one of many wrongs within Yale itself and we will not stop now. It is important for Yale students to recognize the impact of community and in saying that, work toward building a true relationship with the community and get more actively involved in action — not just reaction.”
Coalition organizer Jesus Morales said he and Lugo waited outside Calhoun on Saturday afternoon with masking tape as the decision was about to be released. After receiving a phone call from Matos alerting them of the name change, the two covered Calhoun’s name with the tape and wrote “Grace Hopper” over it.
Morales said he believes the national attention received by student protests and Menafee’s arrest made the Corporation understand what the name Calhoun means to the New Haven community and the United States as a whole.
“I like to think they finally understood how much of an impact Yale’s traditions have on the New Haven community and its residents,” he said.