Calhoun College: Yale to drop slavery advocate’s name

Activists underwhelmed by US university’s move, say change of name from a ‘bad person to a good person’ is not enough.

Calhoun College
Calhoun was a leading voice in the US for those opposed to abolishing slavery [Bob Child/AP]

After years of protests, Yale University has announced that it will change the name of a residential college that honoured a 19th-century white male supremacist and ardent supporter of slavery.

The US university said on Saturday it would rename Calhoun College after Grace Hopper College, a female Yale alumnus who invented a pioneering computer programming language and became a Navy rear admiral.

Yale said it was the final decision in a controversy over former US Vice President John C Calhoun’s legacy that had simmered for years and boiled over with campus protests in 2015.

Four people were arrested in a peaceful protest as recent as Friday after they blocked street traffic.

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Peter Salovey, Yale president, said the name change was not a decision “we take lightly” but that Calhoun’s legacy as “a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values”.

Salovey held a different opinion last year, when he said the name would be kept, despite protests.

“At that time, as now, I was committed to confronting, not erasing, our history,” Salovey said. “I was concerned about inviting a series of name changes that would obscure Yale’s past.”

University officials also said that the symbols of Calhoun on campus will not be removed, such as engravings and a statue atop the landmark Harkness Tower.

‘No corrective move’

Chris Rabb, a 1992 Yale graduate, told the AFP news agency that just changing the name from a “bad person to a good person” is not enough.

Rabb has spoken out against the name since his own days living at Calhoun College. He successfully lobbied for the removal of a stained glass window depicting a black man in shackles kneeling before Calhoun.

“I’m underwhelmed,” said Rabb, an educator and state representative in Pennsylvania who cofounded an alumni network for black Yale graduates.

“This choice makes no corrective move toward reconciliation in light of not just the legacy of John C Calhoun, but Yale University’s ties to slavery and systemic racism.”

Calhoun, a member of the Yale class of 1804, was a senator from South Carolina and a leading voice for those opposed to abolishing slavery. He served as US vice president from 1825 to 1832.

The decision to name one of Yale’s 12 colleges after him in 1931- and decorate it with depictions celebrating plantation life – was controversial at the time and triggered demonstrations by black students.

Source: News Agencies