Today, the Yale corporation announced that the name of Calhoun College will be changed to honor instead the legacy of Grace Murray Hopper ‘30 M.A, ‘34 Ph.D. The decision was made yesterday during the Corporation’s scheduled February meeting. The perception of Calhoun’s historical legacy as one that promoted slavery as a “positive good” was a prominent factor in the decision to change the name. President Salovey stressed his continuing concern that renaming as a practice will encourage the erasure of “embarrassing” parts of Yale’s history even as he recognized the “exceptionalism” and possible “uniqueness” of the Calhoun case that led to the necessity of the College’s renaming.
After a tumultuous year in which students, alumni, professors, and community members participated in a public dialogue on the charge to rename Calhoun College, President Salovey formed a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming in August. After examining similar incidents surrounding renaming that had taken place at peer institutions in the recent years — where some followed through on renaming and others did not — the committee extrapolated four guiding principles from which Yale could make a decision on the renaming of any building, including Calhoun College.
In their essence, the principles state that a namesake’s primary legacy should not conflict with the university’s mission and that the institution should examine its initial reasons for naming said structure to consider how the namesake’s legacy aligns with these reasons for naming and community forming efforts at Yale.
President Salovey then recruited a three-person advisory committee to apply the renaming committee’s principles to the name of Calhoun College. The advisory committee voted unanimously for the renaming of the college, citing that three of the four principles stipulated “weigh heavily towards renaming.” In a letter from the advisory group released today on the renaming of Calhoun College, the group wrote, “History asks us to know the past, not to approve all that’s in it” ultimately finding that the legacy of Calhoun’s namesake was fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University.
Calhoun College was named in 1931 after John C. Calhoun, a Yale College graduate of the class of 1804 who served the United States as vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war, and a U.S. senator throughout his political career. In choosing the name of Calhoun, Yale also took into consideration Calhoun’s identity as a southerner, as made evident in depictions of the “Old South” throughout Calhoun college. Calhoun’s staunch support of slavery cannot be omitted from this renaming decision process as his legacy is in part comprised of his white supremacy and his attempts throughout his political career to maintain and expand the practice of slavery.