Yale Considers Renaming Calhoun College Due to Slavery Ties

What to Know

  • Yale University's advisory panel is considering a name change for its Calhoun residential college
  • The college was named after former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, who was an ardent supporter of slavery
  • Yale President Peter Salovey said the panel will use the recommendations of a university committee guideline for changing building names

Yale University's president has appointed an advisory panel to consider whether to change the name of its Calhoun residential college, which honors a former U.S. vice president who also was an ardent supporter of slavery. 

In a letter to the university community Friday, President Peter Salovey said the panelists will use the recommendations of a university committee that on Friday released guidelines to follow when the school considers changing building names. 

Yale has been under pressure to remove the name of John C. Calhoun, a member of the Yale class of 1804 who was a vice president and senator from South Carolina who became a leading voice for those opposed to abolishing slavery. 

Friday's report from the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming says changing the name of anything at the Ivy League school should be an exceptional event done only when the person was honored for a "principal legacy fundamentally at odds with the university's mission." 

The report also cautioned the removing a name must not have the effect of "erasing history" and keeping it should not have the effect of "distorting history." The school should take steps, such as creating museum-like exhibits that put the name in a proper historical and social context, to make sure that doesn't happen. 

"Symbols matter," the report said. "The persistent history of controversy over the Calhoun name is evidence of that." 

Controversy has surrounded the name of Calhoun College for decades, but it received new attention last year as protesters on campuses around the country called for universities to address the legacies of historical figures, such as Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University in New Jersey. 

Salovey announced in April that the school would keep Calhoun's name on the college and said the move would help Yale confront the history of slavery in the United States. 

He decided to revisit the issue following the arrest of a black dining services worker, Corey Menafee, who in June used a broomstick to smash a stained-glass window at the college that depicted slaves. Criminal charges have since been dropped and Yale has rehired Menafee, who had described the image as offensive. 

Alexander Dreier, the school's vice president and general counsel, said Yale hopes to have the advisory panel's recommendations early in 2017 and resolve the issue soon after that. The ultimate decision to rename the college will rest with the Yale Corporation, the school's governing board. 

"We have been living with these issues for some time at Yale, so I think everybody feels that it would be helpful to resolve these issues as soon as we can, consistent with the scholarly and thorough approach that we want to take," Dreier said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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