At two p.m. on Saturday February 11, President Peter Salovey sent an email to the Yale community, announcing that Calhoun College would be renamed for Grace Murray Hopper ‘30 M.A. ‘34 Ph.D. The decision followed over a year of student and community member activism.
Last April, President Salovey announced that Calhoun College would not be renamed, disappointing those who had argued the university should not honor a white supremacist and proponent of slavery. In the days after the announcement, students conducted a symbolic renaming ceremony on cross-campus, and Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots social justice organization in New Haven, announced that it would be holding weekly “Change the Name” protests in front of Calhoun College.
During the fall of 2016, Salovey established the Committee for Establishing Principles on Renaming. The Committee was tasked with providing universal guidelines on the way the university should approach issues of renaming. After the committee released its report, three advisors (Professor Jacqueline Goldsby, Professor John Lewis Gaddis, and G. Leonard Baker ‘64) were tasked with applying these universal principles to the specific case of Calhoun College. The advice of this second committee was presented at a meeting of the Yale Corporation, which chose to rename the college in honor of Grace Murray Hopper. Hopper, who invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, was a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. In his email to students, President Salovey described Hopper as “a trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher” whose “achievements and life of service reflect Yale’s mission and core values.”
The Politic collected reactions from across the Yale community. They will be updated as more responses come in.
“As an international student, I never realized how invested I would become with Calhoun College’s name change. I soon came to realize it wasn’t ‘just a name.’ Calhoun was symbolic of a legacy of slavery and white supremacy that still causes hurt today. Today, Yale established that it stands for justice and dignity. To rename the college in memory of Grace Hopper is a no-brainer: Hopper was a fantastic woman who broke through gender barriers and revolutionized the field of computing. Unlike Calhoun, she is symbolic of the way forward. We must not, however, bury the Calhoun issue into distant memory. We must remember its divisiveness, its complexity, and the dialogue it wrought that went far beyond a name. But for now, Yale has set a historic precedent that will reverberate for ages to come.”
—Sarim Abbas ‘20
“I remember my Computer Science teacher in high school explaining that without Grace Hopper, we wouldn’t have computer science as it exists today. I’m excited to see her honored in this way–I think it sends a strong signal that we will celebrate our graduates who have positively impacted the world, but also condemn those like Calhoun who were not a force for good. It’s excellent that this decision has been made, but it couldn’t have happened without the bravery and determination of so many students, staff members, and community activists. This is their victory, and I’m grateful for their fight.”
—Rahul Nagvekar ‘20
“I was initially skeptical about the push for renaming because of the potential for it to snowball and become a messy widespread renaming movement that could even touch the name Yale itself. However, I think the University handled the situation very well and make a good decision, because they managed to rename the college to honor an outstanding Yale alum while setting out guidelines to make it clear that this is a unique case, since the Calhoun name and what it stands for is particularly antithetical to the University’s mission.”
—Amir Rezvani ‘20
“I’m going to miss Calhoun. Not out of any real attachment, but because it was useful as a reminder. Let me first say that I disagree with much of what he said. His ideas were built on the incorrect assumption of inherent racial inferiority, and where they weren’t, they would have crippled any attempt at federal government. So in part it was a reminder as to how far we’ve come and why he was wrong. On a deeper level, I always saw it as an injunction to reject his ideas without resorting to simply saying ‘he’s a racist’ or ‘that idea is racist.’ The question was never about if he could be right, but rather if we could rebut his ideas without descending to the level of vitriol and fanaticism that he showed. I suppose, with the whole saga of this name change, that question’s been answered.”
—Justin Jin ‘20
“The Board of the Yale Women’s Center is happy with the decision to change the name of John C. Calhoun College to Grace Murray Hopper College. Given Grace Hopper’s role as a pioneer in the field of computer science and mathematics, we are looking forward to the second honoring of a woman for Yale’s residential colleges, and hope that she inspires future generations of women in STEM. However, we had hoped for a name change that acknowledged the years of activism by students of color and New Haven activists. We feel the decision to change the name from a white supremacist to a white woman, as amazing as she may be, is an act of whitewashing.
‘We feel the name change still does not reflect the issues raised by students and alumni for the years of Change-the-Name activism. Additionally, we believe there was not enough transparency in the decision making process; again and again, student, faculty and New Haven community voices are being silenced. Last year, students came together and put over fifty stakes in the lawn of Hopper College with potential names. One of the overarching themes emphasized by both students and the administration throughout this renaming process was the importance of preserving and discussing America’s history of slavery. However, the decision to rename the college after another white person seems like an attempt to end this discussion on the history of white supremacy and its active and continued role in this institution and on our campus.
‘We wish to call upon Grace Hopper College to become a center of resources and action for marginalized peoples and their accomplishments to this campus and to the nation at large. We call upon Yale University to engage in a greater action and policy change that will bring about positive changes to the lives of students of color and other marginalized communities who are in this conversation for the long haul. Hopper College just shows that there is so much more work to be done; this isn’t the end of the conversation.”
—The Yale Women’s Center Board
“I have never doubted the existence of racism at the heart of Yale’s founding, among its many alumni, and on its campus today. I came to the personal conclusion on renaming that, as long as racism remains in Yale’s community, we ought to debate the monuments to white supremacists like Calhoun, and how much they enable racist principles and attitudes at Yale. As many have said renaming will not “solve all of our problems.” I am not even sure that the Hopper decision in itself will change many minds. Still, I cried today seeing my peers, especially ones that belong to historically oppressed groups, realizing that they have the tenacity and conviction to brave the long road ahead of us all — that although Yale has failed them and continued to do so, we will not allow these failures to go unacknowledged.”
—Anna McNeil ‘20
“As a member of Hopper college, the name change represents a tremendous accomplishment which has shifted us towards our fundamental values—inclusivity and equitability and compassion. At this moment, we have discarded the weight of traditionalism to declare that bigotry and discrimination do not represent our community, that they belong as mere vestiges of the past, and that we, together, can create a better future. And, as we strive to transition to a more diverse, more accepting Yale, I urge us to derive inspiration from Grace Hopper’s legacy of courageously defying social norms to achieve the seemingly impossible.”
—Jack Lattimore ‘20