Light & Verity

Calhoun College, 1933–2017

After years of debate, Yale renames a residential college.

Robbie Short ’19/Yale Daily News

Robbie Short ’19/Yale Daily News

On the day the decision to rename Calhoun was announced, a student threw snow to cover a relief of John C. Calhoun. View full image

Robbie Short ’19/Yale Daily News

Robbie Short ’19/Yale Daily News

A sign at Calhoun’s Elm Street entrance was immediately altered after the decision was announced. View full image

Reversing a decision made last spring, the Yale Corporation decided in February to rename Calhoun College. “The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly,” wrote President Peter Salovey ’86PhD in announcing the decision, “but 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.”

Just last April, Salovey had announced that Yale would keep the name, arguing that “removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.” But after widespread criticism of that decision, including an open letter signed by 396 faculty, Salovey appointed a committee to establish a set of principles to guide renaming decisions. Once those principles were in place (“Calhoun Decision Will Be Revisited,” January/February), Salovey asked former Yale trustee Len Baker ’64 (a Calhoun alumnus), history professor John Lewis Gaddis, and African American studies chair Jacqueline Goldsby ’98PhD to review the question of renaming Calhoun, employing the committee’s principles. Both Gaddis and Goldsby had signed the open letter.

In January, the three recommended a name change, which the Corporation approved at its February meeting. Salovey announced on February 11 that Calhoun would become Grace Murray Hopper College, named for the pioneering computer scientist who earned her PhD at Yale in 1934. Salovey wrote in his announcement that “Hopper’s name was mentioned by more individuals than any other” when the university was soliciting suggestions for names for the two new residential colleges.
The reactions that were voiced on campus were mostly positive, and in some cases joyous: many students celebrated in the Hopper College courtyard with music and dancing after the decision was announced, and handmade signs reading “Hopper College” began to appear immediately. The melody “Amazing Grace” was heard coming from the Harkness carillon.

Alumni, some of whom were among the most vocal opponents of the change, had mixed reactions. Many lauded the decision on social media, expressing pride in the university or wondering why it took so long. But many alumni of Calhoun identified with the sentiment expressed by Yale College dean and former Calhoun master Jonathan Holloway ’95PhD in a News op-ed: “My support for the name was not a declaration of affinity for John C. Calhoun or his politics. Far from it. Rather, it was a declaration of support for a place I called home.” (Ultimately, Holloway concluded that the Corporation made the right decision.)

The change becomes official on July 1, but the new name immediately began appearing on people’s lips and in some university materials, such as the Yale Dining website. And to what college will alumni of Calhoun belong? Salovey wrote that they will have a choice of being listed as graduates of Calhoun or Hopper. Says Justin Zaremby ’03, ’07PhD, ’10JD, “I remain a proud graduate of Calhoun College and am now a proud fellow of Grace Murray Hopper College.”

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