Activists want Yale to rename building named after slavery-supporting secessionist
- A petition is circulating at Yale University to change the name of Calhoun College, a residential building on campus.
- Activists say the reference to slave-owning U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun represents oppression and racism.
- Other universities and cities across the U.S. may rename buildings and streets that reference Confederate figures and some locales are considering tearing down statues of Confederate soldiers.
Following the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, many universities have raised concerns over statues, street names, and building names that honor Confederate figures.
Advocates for changing the names of these buildings and streets are now petitioning Yale University to find a new name for its residential Calhoun College. The college honors John C. Calhoun, a slave plantation supporter, U.S. senator from South Carolina, Vice President of the United States under President John Quincy Adams, and an 1804 alumnus of Yale. The petition claims that the name Calhoun is insensitive to the pain and suffering of the black population.
The petition has received 1332 signatures from current students and alumni as of today.
"The tragedy in Charleston, on top of countless preceding tragedies in our country's history, has elevated public opinion and discourse on difficult subjects that have too long been avoided," university spokeswoman Karen Peart told the Elko Daily Free Press.
Christopher Rabb, a black 1992 Yale graduate and now a Temple University professor, told Elko that changing the name of Calhoun College is not enough. When Rabb attended Yale and lived in Calhoun College, the building had a stained glass window portraying the namesake standing above a black slave.
"Removing a name, removing a symbol is easy and we can say, 'problem solved,'" Rabb explained to Elko. "But we're dealing with a symbol and we're not dealing with the root cause. And the root cause is systemic racism."
When asked for her opinion on the matter by Campus Reform, Julie Slama, a sophomore global affairs student at Yale, said that, "[m]any people seem to overlook the fact that John C. Calhoun was a two-term vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war, and was a key in the annexation of Texas."
"Yes, he supported slavery, yet many of our founding fathers did, as well. The man graduated from Yale and has a list of achievements longer than many of the other residential college namesakes," she said.
Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun and New York City’s General Lee Avenue are also facing scrutiny, and elected officials are discussing tearing down a Confederate soldiers’ memorial in Helena, Montana.
In Connecticut, the state Democratic Party is debating whether or not to do away with Thomas Jefferson’s and Andrew Jackson’s names in the group’s 67th annual fundraising dinner because the two U.S. presidents owned slaves.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BethanySalgado