As businesses and universities continue announcing their support for diversity, Yale University makes one of the boldest statements of the list.
The University announced it is renaming one of its residential colleges. The department, called Calhoun College, was dedicated to former Vice President John C. Calhoun, an alumnus who was a slavery advocate. Last Spring, Yale President Peter Salovey said he did not want to erase history, but learn from it. However, university officials made a different decision this year.
The university is renaming the department Grace Murray Hopper College. Grace Murray Hopper was a mathematician and computer scientist who helped advance technology.
Sociology professor helped rename the college. She said that people immediately provided positive feedback to the university’s decision.
“The minute that the announcement came out, people stuck their heads out of the window and yelled ‘Wahoo!’,” she said.
University officials will add Grace Murray Hopper’s name to the building by the 2017-2018 academic year. Although they decided not to remove previous Calhoun-related artifacts, including Calhoun’s name on the college and stained glass portrayals of slavery, all documents and students’ T-shirts will refer to the college as Grace Murray Hopper. The facilities team will move the stained glass windows to another location with an explanation of their historical context.
Despite the renaming of the college, Salovey said he still believes confronting history is more important than erasing it. Although he did not want to proceed, he allowed a committee, led by a historian, to consider the gesture. The committee created a set of four principles they used to make the decision. The main component of this set considers if the commemorated person’s legacy contradicts Yale’s values.
All things considered, Salovey said this principle pertained to Calhoun, who was “a white supremacist, an ardent defender of slavery as ‘a positive good.’” He continued to say that Calhoun’s views solidified more as he aged and he died criticizing the Declaration of Independence’s emphasis on the equality of people.
Additional principles included whether the commemorated person’s legacy was debated during his or her life, why the university honored that person, and whether the building has an important role in creating a community on campus.
Differing from his original stance, Solovey said he thinks Yale officials can make the change without effacing history
“In considering these principles, it became clear that Calhoun College presents an exceptionally strong case — perhaps uniquely strong — that allows it to overcome the powerful presumption against renaming,” he said. “This principal legacy of Calhoun…conflicts fundamentally with the values Yale has long championed.”
The committee’s decision was unanimous, and Salovey said he was thrilled with the decision.
Hopper graduated from Yale in 1934 with her doctorate in mathematics and mathematical physics. During World War II, she quit teaching to enlist in the U.S. Navy, primarily using math and computer technology. Her work creates opportunities for new computer programs and technological word-based languages.
Described as a “visionary,” Hopper retired as a rear admiral when she was 79. She received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Salovey said her principal legacy is “all around us.”
“Grace Hopper College thus honors her spirit of innovation and public service while looking fearlessly to the future,” he said.”