Yale University has decided to rename Calhoun College because the man it is named for was a prominent supporter of slavery and white supremacy.
Yale officials decided that having a campus institution named for John C. Calhoun, an alumnus who served as vice president and U.S. senator, conflicted with the university's missions and values.
"John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” says Yale President Peter Salovey.
The college, one of 12 undergraduate residential colleges at Yale, will now carry the name of Grace Murray Hopper, a Yale alumna and a pioneering computer scientist.
This name change reverses a decision made last year not to change the name of Calhoun College.
“At that time, as now, I was committed to confronting, not erasing, our history," says Salovey. "I was concerned about inviting a series of name changes that would obscure Yale’s past. These concerns remain paramount, but we have since established an enduring set of principles that address them. The principles establish a strong presumption against renaming buildings, ensure respect for our past, and enable thoughtful review of any future requests for change.”
The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming outlined four principles that should guide any consideration of renaming: (1) whether the namesake’s principal legacy fundamentally conflicts with the university’s mission; (2) whether that principal legacy was contested during the namesake’s lifetime; (3) the reasons the university honored that person; and (4) whether the building so named plays a substantial role in forming community at Yale.
Salovey says it became clear that Calhoun College was an exceptionally strong case that overcame the presumption against renaming.
Calhoun, an 1804 graduate of Yale, served the United States as vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war, and a U.S. senator. He used those positions to advocate ardently for slavery and white supremacy.
As a national leader, Calhoun helped enshrine his racist views in American policy, transforming them into consequential actions, the university says. And while other southern statesmen and slaveholders treated slavery as a “necessary evil,” Calhoun insisted it was a “positive good,” beneficial to enslaved people and essential to republican institutions.
“Unlike other namesakes on our campus, he distinguished himself not in spite of these views but because of them,” Salovey says. "...[H]onoring a namesake whose legacy so sharply conflicts with the university’s values should weigh especially heavily when the name adorns a residential college, which plays a key role in forming community at Yale."
In renaming the college for Hopper, a 1930 graduate Yale is honoring a computer scientist, mathematician and teacher that it calls one of its most distinguished graduates.
She taught mathematics at Vassar for nearly a decade before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where she used her mathematical knowledge to fight fascism during World War II. In 1952 she and her team developed the first computer language “compiler,” which would make it possible to write programs for multiple computers rather than a single machine.
Hopper then pioneered the development of word-based computer languages, and she was instrumental in developing COBOL, the most widely used computer language in the world by the 1970s. Hopper’s work helped make computers more accessible to a wider range of users and vastly expanded their application.
“As we considered potential namesakes...Hopper’s name was mentioned by more individuals than any other, reflecting the strong feeling within our community that her achievements and life of service reflect Yale’s mission and core values.”