Listening sessions continue conversation on residential college names

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A view from the Calhoun College courtyard. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Margaret H. Marshall ’76 J.D. ’12 LL.D., the senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, will hold two listening sessions this week where members of the Yale community can express their views about the names for the new colleges and about Calhoun College.

These sessions follow from a commitment made by President Peter Salovey in his message to the Yale community on Nov. 17 outlining initiatives toward a more inclusive Yale, to examine the representation of diversity on campus. As Salovey said then, the university’s trustees “value, and will continue to hold, in-person and other discussions as they move toward making decisions.”

The listening sessions will be held at the Sterling Law Building (127 Wall St.) on Thursday, Jan. 28, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. and Friday, Jan. 29, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., according to Yale Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews. Yale community members planning to attend are asked to register for one of the sessions here. Those who cannot attend, or who prefer to share thoughts in writing, may submit their comments here.

Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway initiated this year’s campus conversation on the naming of Calhoun College with their Aug. 29 welcome addresses to first-year students in Yale College. After the murders in Charleston that prompted the South Carolina legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol, Yale had received inquiries from students, alumni, and the broader community asking about the university’s position on Calhoun College, as its namesake was one of slavery’s most ardent defenders.

The President and Dean said then that any response by the university regarding the name change should engage the entire community in a thoughtful conversation about the university’s history, the reasons why we remember or honor individuals, and whether historical narratives should or should not be altered when they are disturbing.

Following the freshman assembly, Salovey and Holloway invited the entire Yale community to join the conversation. The university also organized conversations and panel discussions in the fall semester, led by scholars from Yale whose work helps inform the conversation.

“A passionate, nuanced, robust debate”

“Since August, we have received hundreds of thoughtful, constructive responses about the name of Calhoun College,” said Holloway. “Taken together, they form a passionate, nuanced, and robust debate, with perspectives across the full spectrum, and befitting an academic community.”

More than 600 alumni, students, faculty, staff, and parents have shared their opinions through this forum, with views across a range of opinion, from removing the name in favor of a new one, to retaining it as a teachable marker of history, to making a hybrid by adding a name to exemplify contemporary understandings of race and inclusion.

Many who favor changing the name expressed sentiments similar to that of one Yale alum, a former Hounie, who wrote: ” … I have nothing but the most pleasant memories and fond feelings for the place — all associated in my mind, of course, with the name Calhoun. However, I do not think we can condone a moral wrong simply out of sentimentality and nostalgia. And it is a moral wrong to honor the name of a man, even a statesman, whose values and views are insulting and hurtful to our fellow Americans. …”

Many who oppose the name change argued, as one alum did, that “… Just because today we would think twice about honoring Calhoun by naming a new residential college after him should not lead us down a revisionist path whose end is unpredictable. Better to keep the name, and educate current and future generations of students and the greater Yale community about Calhoun’s place on the wrong side of one of history’s greatest moral issues. …”

The reasoning of those who advocated for a hybrid name echoed those of one alum who proposed combining Calhoun’s name with that of a noted Abolitionist, writing: “… [I]t’s important to highlight to black and African American students, alums, applicants, and aspirants that Yale is a place of equal opportunity and a place that recognizes the potential of black students. That said, if Yale does away with the Calhoun name completely, for me, it is erasing a part of its own history and pretending this terrible legacy never occurred. …”

At the center of these on- and off-campus discussions is the residential college itself. “Calhoun College has contributed mightily to the depth and seriousness of the open conversation that Yale is having regarding the name of the college. We have had many events, both formal and informal, throughout the academic year. Now the discussion broadens once again to explicitly include all of Yale,” said Julia Adams, master of the college. On Jan. 22, she had portraits of John C. Calhoun removed from college the dining room and master’s house. “Taking down the portraits signals the conclusion of one stage and the opening of the next, at the end of which a decision will be made,” she notes. The portraits will be cleaned and restored by Yale conservators.

According to Goff-Crews, “The trustees, who are entrusted with the authority to name residential colleges, have appreciated the many people who have already shared their views, and they look forward to further input, whether at one of the two listening sessions or through the online form.” The trustees are expected to make their decisions regarding the residential college names later this year.

These listening sessions are part of Yale’s ongoing work toward a more inclusive Yale. For more information on the campus-wide effort to promote diversity and inclusion visit http://inclusive.yale.edu/.

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