Last week, I received my Yale News email announcing that Calhoun College was going to change its name to honor Grace Murray Hopper. I had two questions. Why did it take so long? And, who is Grace Hopper?
Now, you may not really care about the renaming of a college at Yale University, but stick with me for a moment. The college is named for John C. Calhoun, who served a as secretary of war, secretary of state, and a vice president under two presidents. But he was also a pro-slavery fanatic. When I was at Georgetown graduate school, one of my professors required that we read some of the writings by John Calhoun. I was shocked.
So it is a bit amazing that it took until 2017 for the administration, faculty, and students to remove his name. But the university faces a problem. Many of the other colleges are named for people who owned slaves. They would be Timothy Dwight, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Silliman, John Davenport, and Ezra Stiles. Once you start down this road, there may be no stopping it.
One of the arguments for removing Calhoun’s name was that “he has no strong association with our campus.” Huh? Calhoun graduated valedictorian from Yale College in 1804. Grace Hopper never graduated from Yale College, but only has graduate degrees from Yale University.
This is hardly just an issue for Yale University. Last year, Princeton University removed a painting of President Woodrow Wilson. Georgetown University renamed two buildings named for presidents who had a part in selling slaves. University of North Carolina changed the name of Saunders Hall because it was named for a Ku Klux Klan organizer. Washington and Lee University removed a Confederate flag from its chapel, even though General Robert E. Lee served as the university’s president and is buried beneath the chapel.
I suspect we are just seeing the beginning of the renaming of lots of buildings on college campuses.