Yale works toward Calhoun-less Calhoun College
Yale University’s Calhoun College will keep its name, but stained-glass windows portraying the pro-slavery politician are to be removed, and the Calhoun Dining Hall will be renamed for a former African American student.
“My goal is to have things ready for Hounies’ return to campus,” Julia Adams, the Head of Calhoun College, told The Yale Daily News. “Placating people wasn’t in my mind. Rather, I hope that the specific mingling of old and new, in which the students and broader Calhoun community will have a hand, opens to the future as well as the past.”
“The dining hall, one might argue, is a centerpiece in residential college life.”
The announcement—made via an email to students Tuesday night—comes just two months after Yale tried to appease student activists by abolishing the title of “master” for the heads of its residential colleges because opponents felt the word evoked images of slavery. Around the same time, however, the administration refused to change the name of Calhoun College, defying the wishes of nearly 1,500 students who signed a petition started in July of last year.
Adams explained in her email that Yale will store the Calhoun windows in its art gallery for preservation, just as the university did with three Calhoun oil paintings that she had removed earlier this year.
Throughout the Calhoun controversy, Adams has repeatedly advocated for compromise solutions designed to appease student activists without directly defying the orders of the Yale Corporation, which has ultimate jurisdiction over the matter.
It was Adams, for instance, who suggested renaming the dining hall after Roosevelt Thompson, an African American student from the Class of 1984 who excelled in academics and public service but died just two months before graduation, advancing the proposal mere hours after the Yale Corporation rejected calls to rename Calhoun College in April.
Previously, she had advanced the idea of compromising by renaming the college Calhoun-Douglass in reference to abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
“The dining hall, one might argue, is a centerpiece in residential college life,” said Yale student Alex Zhang. “It represents community, fellowship, and joy. Roosevelt Thompson demonstrated those values to the fullest.”
Not all students are pleased with the concessions, however, and several have voiced complaints from both sides of the issue.
“There are no consolation prizes in this war,” said Austin Strayhorn, a Calhoun College student who belongs to the Black Men’s Union and strongly opposes the decision to retain the name of Calhoun College.
Others, though, argue that Calhoun has historical relevance to the university as one of its most prominent alumni, and should not be disregarded merely because he espoused certain odious views that were nevertheless common in his time.
"Many 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," said Julie Slama, a Yale global affairs student. "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.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ShimshockAndAwe