After more than a year of student protests highlighting racial injustice on the campus, Yale University announced today via a statement by President Peter Salovey that the school will formally consider a proposal to rename Calhoun College. The Residential College was named in 1933 for John C. Calhoun, a Yale alumnus who went on to become the seventh vice president of the United States and one of the most prominent pro-slavery advocates of his time.
The original decision to name Yale’s newest Residential College was met with muted concern in 1933, and the unease has continued in the intervening decades. Beginning last year, that concern erupted into sustained mass protest of Calhoun College’s name, which students say either whitewashes over — or even amounts to a celebration of — Calhoun’s pro-slavery viewpoints. The decision over the years to decorate Calhoun College with art objects that reference slavery — including a stained glass image of shackled slaves at Calhoun’s feet, another of slaves picking cotton, and oil paintings that included images of Calhoun with his slaves — only exacerbated the controversy; none of these art pieces currently remain at Calhoun, but some are still on display elsewhere on campus.
Last November, a multiracial coalition of students issued a list of demands to Yale administrators to address racial injustice on campus; the renaming of Calhoun was included alongside calls to improve administrative support for ethnic studies, cultural community centers, and student mental health. A survey of students conducted in April of this year showed that 55% support renaming the College.
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