Yale retains Calhoun College’s name, selects names for two new residential colleges, and changes title of 'master' in the residential colleges

  • Yale retains the name of Calhoun College, one of its 12 undergraduate residential colleges, to confront, teach, and learn from the history of slavery in the United States.
  • Two new residential colleges at Yale, opening in 2017, will be named for Pauli Murray, a Yale Law School alumna and ardent defender of civil rights, and Benjamin Franklin, a Yale honorary degree recipient, inventor, and statesman.
  • Yale changes the title of “master” in the residential colleges to “head of college.”

Yale President Peter Salovey announced today that the university would retain the name of Calhoun College, one of 12 undergraduate residential colleges, to encourage the campus community to confront the history of slavery, and to teach that history and its legacy. He also announced that the university’s two new undergraduate residential colleges, slated to open in 2017, will be named for exemplary American leaders Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin, and that Yale will change the title of “master” to “head of college” in all of the residential colleges.

“We are a university whose motto is ‘light and truth.’ Our core mission is to educate and discover. These ideals guided our decisions. Through teaching and learning about the most troubling aspects of our past, our community will be better prepared to challenge their legacies,” Salovey said. “More than a decision about a name, we must focus on understanding the past and present, and preparing our students for the future.”

Calhoun College

The name of Calhoun College will remain.

The residential college housing system is at the heart of the Yale experience. Before arriving as freshmen, students are assigned randomly to one of 12 residential colleges, providing Yale undergraduates a built-in community from the moment they arrive. Each residential college is a close-knit community — a microcosm of Yale’s diverse student body, with the intimacy of a small college experience. 

In his address to freshmen last August, Salovey continued an ongoing discussion on the issues concerning the names of buildings, using Calhoun as an example. Following an examination of the history of the naming of Calhoun College after Vice President John C. Calhoun, a fervent supporter of states’ rights, nullification, and slavery as a “positive good” — and after a careful review of student and alumni suggestions, scholarly views, and public commentary — it became evident that renaming Calhoun College could have the effect of hiding the legacy of slavery.

“Ours is a nation that often refuses to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of that history,” said Salovey. “We cannot erase American history but we can confront it, teach it, and learn from it. The decision to retain Calhoun College’s name reflects the importance of this vital educational imperative.”

To ensure a deeper, more consistent, and more explicit understanding of Yale’s institutional history, the university will initiate a historical study, beginning with an examination of the legacy of John C. Calhoun. The project will draw on the talents of Yale’s scholars, students, and staff, and will be designed to illuminate the lesser-known people, events, and narratives behind the familiar facades seen on campus. The study will enable students and scholars to understand not only those aspects of the university’s — and our nation’s — history that are a source of pride, but also those that are shameful and, therefore, essential to know and confront.

Yale will also hold a juried competition — open to the entire university community — to select a work of public art that will be displayed permanently on the grounds of Calhoun College. Entrants will be asked to propose works that respond to the realities and consequences of Calhoun’s life and time, and will be encouraged to give the widest possible consideration to different creative approaches. This effort will supplement the ongoing work of the university’s Committee on Art in Public Places, which is charged with assessing artistic representations across the campus and making recommendations for ways that art can engage and illuminate the past in the context of present-day issues.

Salovey has already committed new resources to create a more inclusive Yale by:

  • Enhancing faculty diversity through hiring and retention practices, mentoring, and expanded pipeline programs to support underrepresented minorities in academia;
  • Establishing a student, faculty, and alumni Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion;
  • Sponsoring a presentation for Yale leaders on recognizing and combatting discrimination and bias;
  • Expanding programs, services, and support for students; and
  • Establishing an academic and intellectual Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Migration.

(More details are available at inclusive.yale.edu.)

“Yale is already a leader in diversifying our student body. For example, 41% of the college’s freshmen identify themselves as members of a U.S. minority group,” said Salovey. “We are committed to improving that diversity across our campus more broadly, creating the most stimulating educational environment possible, and ensuring that our students and all members of our community understand the benefits of engaging across ethnic, religious, cultural, economic, and political differences.”

Naming the new residential colleges

The new residential colleges will be named for Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray and Benjamin Franklin. These decisions were the product of extensive input from the university’s alumni, students, and faculty — who submitted thousands of comments and suggestions — and careful deliberation by and discussion among the trustees of the Yale Corporation (the university’s governing board) over several years.

“Both Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray were committed life-long learners who believed in the power of education to transform individuals and societies,” Salovey said.

Pauli Murray College will honor a Yale alumna (’65 J.S.D., ’79 Hon. D.Div.) noted for her achievements in law and religion, and for her leadership in civil rights and the advancement of women. Anna Pauline Murray, known throughout her life as Pauli Murray, enrolled at Hunter College in the 1920s, graduating in 1933 after deferring her studies following the Great Depression. Later, she began an unsuccessful campaign to enter the all-white University of North Carolina. Murray’s case received national publicity, and she became widely recognized as a civil rights activist.

United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall cited her book, "States’ Laws on Race and Color," for its influence on the lawyers fighting segregation laws. President John F. Kennedy appointed her to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Awarded a fellowship by the Ford Foundation, Murray pursued a doctorate in law at Yale in order to further her scholarly work on gender and racial justice. She co-authored "Jane Crow and the Law: Sex discrimination and Title VII," in which she drew parallels between gender-based discrimination and Jim Crow laws. In 1965, she received her J.S.D. from the Yale Law School, becoming the first African-American to do so. Her dissertation was titled "Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy." Immediately thereafter, she served as counsel in White v. Crook, which successfully challenged discrimination on the basis of sex and race in jury selection. She was a cofounder, with 31 others, of the National Organization for Women.

Murray was a vice president of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina; she left to become a professor at Brandeis University, where she earned tenure and taught until 1973. She was the first person to teach African-American studies and women’s studies at Brandeis.

The final stage of Murray’s career continued a life marked by confronting challenges and breaking down barriers. At age 63, inspired by her connections with other women in the Episcopal Church, she left Brandeis and enrolled at the General Theological Seminary. She became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

“Pauli Murray represents the best of Yale: a pre-eminent intellectual inspired to lead and prepared to serve her community and her country,” said Salovey.  “She was at the intellectual forefront of the battles that defined 20th-century America and continue to be part of our discourse today: civil rights, women’s rights, and the role of spirituality in modern society.” (Read more about Pauli Murray.)

Benjamin Franklin College will recognize the recipient of a Yale honorary degree (1753 Hon. M.A.) whose immense accomplishments span the arts, the sciences, government, and service to society. The 41 published volumes of his papers, which contain the record of Benjamin Franklin’s life correspondence, are among the Yale University Library’s most important collections. The Franklin Papers represent the work of many Yale scholars and editors and, among the historical insights they offer, shed light on Franklin’s relationship with Yale University. He carried on a decades-long correspondence with Yale President Ezra Stiles on subjects ranging from scientific research to the growing collections of Yale’s library.

“Franklin’s brilliance as a scientist, statesman, philosopher, and writer shaped our nation. In adopting his name for one of the new colleges, we honor as well the generosity of Charles B. Johnson ’54 B.A., who considers Franklin a personal role model,” Salovey said. “Mr. Johnson’s contribution to enable the construction of the new colleges is the single largest gift made to Yale. Pauli Murray College and Benjamin Franklin College, which will open Yale’s doors to thousands of additional future students, would not have been possible without his philanthropic vision.”

Franklin was a polymath, an innovator, and a self-taught scientist as well as a founding father. He invented the lightning rod, glass harmonica, Franklin stove, and bifocal glasses, and he made key scientific discoveries related to electricity, the wave theory of light, meteorology, and oceanography. He also was the founder of two great academic institutions. In 1755, Franklin and his associates opened the College of Philadelphia — which, in 1791, became the University of Pennsylvania. And, in 1787 he founded Franklin College — which in 1853 merged with Marshall College to become Franklin and Marshall College.

History also sheds light on Franklin’s past as both a slaveholder and an abolitionist. He owned slaves throughout much of his life; yet toward the end of his life became a leader in the emerging abolitionist movement. In 1787 he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, an organization that dedicated itself to political activism against slavery, as well as the provision of legal aid and education to slaves and other African Americans. One of Franklin’s last acts before his death in 1790 was to petition Congress to “devise means for removing this Inconsistency [slavery] from the Character of the American People.” Urging “mercy and Justice,” he insisted that “equal liberty was originally the Portion” and “is still the Birthright of all men. (Read more about Benjamin Franklin.)

­­­The title of "master" in the residential colleges

The term “master,” when used to describe the role in the residential colleges, will be changed to “head of college.”

At Yale, residential college masters are faculty members who live in the college with their families and serve as the college’s leaders. The master of each residential college plans the college’s academic and social events, including visits by important speakers.

The use of “master” as a title at Yale is a legacy of the college system at Oxford and Cambridge. The term derives from the Latin magister, meaning “chief, head, director, teacher,” and it appears in the titles of university degrees (e.g., master of arts and master of science) and in many aspects of the larger culture (e.g., master craftsman, master builder). Some members of the Yale community argued that discarding the term “master” would interject into an ancient collegiate tradition a racial narrative that has never been associated with its use in the academy. Others maintained that regardless of its history in the academy, the title — especially when applied to an authority figure — carries a painful and unwelcome connotation that can be difficult or impossible for some students and residential college staff to ignore.

The current masters themselves no longer felt it appropriate to be addressed in this way, and archival records show that “head” and “headship” were placeholders for the title in the university’s original residential college planning documents. Thus, Yale selected “head of college,” which speaks to the definition and responsibility of the office, as the replacement term. Heads of college will be addressed as professor, doctor, or Mr. or Ms.