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Despite Protests, Yale Will Not Change Name Of Calhoun College

Erin Pettigrew

Yale University has announced that it will not change the name of Calhoun College. Calhoun is one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges. It’s named after a historic American politician who vigorously defended the institution of slavery.

Some students and alumni have fought for years to change the name. In September the university agreed to hold a series of discussions and reconsider the name. 

On Wednesday President Peter Salovey said changing the name would hide a negative side of Yale’s history, instead of confronting it.

Yale Law student Katherine Demby disagrees. She helped organize a petition last year to rename the college. “Naming a college after someone is to honor them,” she said.

Demby says she heard the announcement while she and other students were writing essays and studying for final exams. “I was very upset. That they chose to release this information when they know students are going to be distracted and overwhelmed and not really able to respond.”

She says there’s a difference between addressing history and celebrating it. “There’s not really a great explanation for how keeping the name does more to shed light on that history than changing the name would.”

Demby says if the school wants to acknowledge its past glorifying Calhoun it could try “doing something like maybe putting up a plaque, this was once named after the slavery apologist John Calhoun and we changed it.”

Instead of changing the name, Salovey says the school will put up an art installation at Calhoun College to, “respond to the realities and consequences of Calhoun’s life.” The school is also starting an online project to look at lesser-known elements of Yale’s history. The first will be an analysis of Calhoun’s legacy.

Kathie is a former editor at WSHU.