Students Rename Calhoun College

by Ellie Pritchett and Karen Marks

On April 29th at 3 pm, Yale students of color held a renaming ceremony for Calhoun College on Cross Campus. The ceremony, attended by approximately 600 people, rechristened the residential college provisionally as “the college formerly known as Calhoun.” It did not specify a new name.

The renaming comes in the wake of President Salovey’s Wednesday email announcing the Yale Corporation’s refusal to rename the college, and Thursday’s town hall meeting at Battell Chapel in which students criticized what they viewed as the sale of the residential college name to the highest bidder—in this case, Charles Johnson ’54, whose $250 million donation towards the construction of the colleges is the largest single gift in Yale’s history.

As speaker Naiya Speight-Leggett CC ’19 stated in her opening remarks, removing John C. Calhoun’s name gives students the freedom to reclaim the college they call home and to consider a Yale that does not glorify white supremacy.

Each student demonstrator was given a picket sign bearing the Calhoun crest and one of several alternative names, including Silvia Rivera, Don Nakanishi, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Henry Roe Cloud. At exactly 3 o’clock, students holding pickets filed into lines on the grass outside the college, standing silently before hundreds of students and dozens of cameras. Afterwards, Calhoun College students of color filed out with larger signs, occupying the front row.

The ceremony featured spoken word poetry by Yuni Chang MC ’18, a Pueblo Indian blessing from Charelle Brown ES ’19, and a rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” performed by Dianne Lake ES ‘16 and Anita Norman BK ‘19 of Shades. Where a traditional Yale naming ceremony would have honored monetary donors, speaker Alejandra Padin-Dujon DC ’18 emphasized that students of color are not “beholden to corporate masters, past or present” and that “we survive and prosper because we are loved.” Speeches given therefore honored parents, unpaid laborers, and activists of Yale’s history.

“Today’s demonstration exemplified the tireless collective labor that students of color have put into making Yale a more just space,” said organizer and demonstrator Crystal Kong BK ’18.

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While Lake and Norman sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” Calhoun College students hammered their pickets into the ground. Other students then joined in singing and laid their pickets on the ground. Ashia Ajani TD ’19 offered final remarks and Ivetty Estepan PC ’18 cut an orange ribbon to close the ceremony.

Afterwards, demonstrators held hands and filed out from Cross Campus, past Woodbridge Hall. There, they sang a rousing chorus of last semester’s activist anthem “We Don’t Mind” followed by a joyful chant of, “We out here! We been here! We ain’t leavin! We are loved!” Students returned to Cross Campus to hammer remaining crests into the grass and dance outside the gates of the college formerly known as Calhoun.

As organizer and demonstrator Desmond Amuh BR ’18 said, “It was spiritual. It was healing. The Renaming Ceremony that took place on Cross Campus today demonstrated the resilience of the community in the face of adversity.”

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photos by Elizabeth Miles 

In deference to the Calhoun Renaming Ceremony, DOWN Magazine will refer to the college “formerly known as Calhoun” by the abbreviations “FKA Calhoun College” or “FKACC” until the college can be assigned a new name by popular consent.