New Haven activists who fought to change the name of Calhoun College have expressed disappointment with their exclusion from Tuesday’s official renaming ceremony, at which the University formally renamed the college after Grace Hopper GRD ’34.
Members of New Haven’s Change the Name Coalition — a group of 47 local organizations that includes the Center for Community Change and Unidad Latina en Acción — protested Calhoun College’s name for over six months last year. The group formed after Yale dining hall worker Corey Menafee was arrested last June for breaking a window panel in the college depicting slaves. From that month onward, the coalition held actions that included holding weekly protests, delivering letters and hosting an act of civil disobedience in which four community members were arrested. But come Tuesday, no activists were invited to the ceremony.
“Yale is trying to say they did this on their own, but we know they didn’t,” said Barbara Fair, a New Haven activist and former social worker. “They are trying to say the community had nothing to do with it.”
Fair said she protested against the Calhoun name in front of the college every Friday for months and described not being invited to the ceremony as a “slap in the face.”
Kica Matos, a leader in the movement against the Calhoun name and the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, credited Menafee with reviving the movement to change the Calhoun name. She said activists throughout the city were appalled and disappointed to find out they have not been invited, but noted they were not surprised.
“Yale’s effort to erase and ignore the New Haven community’s role in changing the name of Calhoun College is nothing new,” Matos said. “It is something that the University has engaged in since the outset.”
When asked why activists were not present at Tuesday’s ceremony, Head of Hopper College Julia Adams noted that University administrators sent out the invitations.
“I would have liked to see thousands of people at the ceremony,” she said. “I feel as if there has been and will be a place for everybody to join in.”
Charles Musser ’75, a professor of American Studies, said in an email to the News that the renaming ceremony constituted a missed opportunity to bring together various groups who fought for the name change.
“After Charlottesville, our appreciation for their efforts should be all the more apparent,” Musser wrote. “Some of these people felt snubbed and so the occasion has the effect, perhaps unintentional, of reinforcing the town-gown divide when it could have brought the two together on a happy occasion.”
He added that he believes Menafee should have been recognized or allowed to speak at the event. Menafee, Musser said, generated support for University President Peter Salovey’s ultimate decision by drawing attention to the issue.
Menafee could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
However, Menafee’s lawyer, Patricia Kane, shared a letter with the News on Wednesday in which she condemned the University for omitting the work of local activists and missing an opportunity to engage with the city. She said she will continue to fight to correct the record whenever Salovey and Yale fail to mention the role New Haven residents played in getting Yale to change the college’s name.
Sara Tabin | firstname.lastname@example.org