Yale University Renames College That Bears Name of White Supremacist

By Kenrya Rankin Feb 13, 2017

Following more than a year of debate, Yale University’s board of trustees has voted to change the name of a residential college whose moniker honors White supremacist and slavery proponent John C. Calhoun. Calhoun College, one of the school’s 12 undergraduate residential communities, will be renamed for alumna Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist.

Yale President Peter Salovey announced the change on Saturday (February 11). “The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, 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,” Salovey said in a statement.

The decision represents a reversal in Salovey’s April 2016 decision to keep the name as is, despite protests from students. At the time, he argued that changing the name would erase history, saying, “More than a decision about a name, we must focus on understanding the past and present, and preparing our students for the future.”

In reaction to ongoing protests, Salovey created the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, which wrote guidelines for this and future proposed name changes at the university. The following four things will be considered for each case:

  • Whether the namesake’s principal legacy fundamentally conflicts with the university’s mission
  • Whether that principal legacy was contested during the namesake’s lifetime
  • The reasons the university honored that person
  • Whether the building so named plays a substantial role in forming community at Yale

An alumnus of Yale, Calhoun served as vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war and a U.S. senator—and he used his power to advocate for slavery both personally and via national policy. The trustees found that a consideration of Calhoun College via the above guidelines merited the change. But others “symbols of Calhoun”—including a sculpture and several spots where his name is engraved—will remain on campus, and Salovey says that, “we will develop a plan to memorialize the fact that Calhoun was a residential college name for 86 years.”

The community will bear the name Hopper College moving forward. The university’s statement about the name change details Grace Murray Hopper’s legacy:

A trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher, and dedicated public servant, Hopper received a master’s degree in mathematics (1930) and a Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics (1934) from Yale. She taught mathematics at Vassar for nearly a decade before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where she used her mathematical knowledge to fight fascism during World War II. A collaborator on the earliest computers, Hopper made her greatest contributions in the realm of software. In 1952 she and her team developed the first computer language “compiler,” which would make it possible to write programs for multiple computers rather than a single machine. Hopper then pioneered the development of word-based computer languages, and she was instrumental in developing COBOL, the most widely used computer language in the world by the 1970s.

No date has been identified for the official name change, but the university says it should be in use by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. Per Yale Daily News, students set to graduated this spring can identify their college as either Calhoun or Hopper at commencement.

Watch a student-produced video about the decision below.