Acting on the unanimous recommendation of an advisory committee, the name of John C. Calhoun will be removed from one of Yale University’s 12 residential buildings. Calhoun was an 1804 graduate of Yale and was class valedictorian; he was the nation’s seventh vice-president, a secretary of war, a secretary of state, and a U.S. Senator from South Carolina; but he was also a white supremacist who zealously advocated slavery. About 11% of Yale’s undergraduate students are black.
Objection to the name of the building began shortly after it opened in 1933. Oppositions to the name may have reached its highest in 2015 in a series of demonstrations from students, faculty and alumni. The name of the building was one of several issues of racial inequality. The other issues were addressed, but Yale University President Peter Salovey resisted renaming the building, writing in a letter to the Yale community that removing the name risked “’masking’ the past and downplaying the lasting effects of slavery, and substituting a false and misleading narrative”.
Concerning the removal of the name, President Salovey told reporters, “I made this decision because I think it is the right thing to do on principle”. He wrote that the gesture illustrated Yale’s “commitment to confronting, not erasing, our history.” Continuing, he wrote, “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.” He also noted that Calhoun was “someone whose views hardened over the course of his life,” and that Calhoun “died essentially criticizing the Declaration of Independence and its emphasis on all men being created equal.”
In an email, Yale junior Alex Zhang wrote, “…I’m exceptionally proud to go to a school that has the capacity, compassion, and courage to make a decision like this.”
The building will be renamed for Grace Murray Hopper, a Navy Rear Admiral and trailblazing computer scientist who received a master’s degree (1930) and doctorate degree (1934) in mathematics from Yale.
Although Calhoun’s name will be removed from the residential building, his name will remain other buildings as will a statue of him on the campus grounds.