Yale University to Rename Calhoun College

"John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a 'positive good' fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values"

Yale University has announced it will rename Calhoun College to honor Yale graduate and computer science revolutionary Grace Murray Hopper, according to a press release from the school on Saturday.

Students and community activists have been calling on the university to change the name of the building, which is an undergraduate residential college, because John C. Calhoun, who the building is named for, was a supporter of slavery.

University President Peter Salovey and the board of trustees voted to change the name at their most recent meeting.

"The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” Salovey said in Saturday’s press release announcing the news.

Back in April, Salovey responded to controversy and protest surrounding the school’s name and announced it would not be changed, in an effort to “to confront, teach and learn from the history of slavery in the United States.”

However, the debate continued and in August the university created a committee to establish principles on renaming. Another group was tasked with applying what the first committee came up with to Calhoun College. Their reports are available here.

Students who oppose keeping the name of the school have launched protests, and a university employee in 2016 smashed a stained glass window that depicted slaves in the Calhoun College dining hall. He was charged, but those charges were later dropped and Yale rehired the employee in a new role. 

Grace Murray Hopper attended Yale in the 1930s and received a master’s degree in mathematics (1930) and a Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics (1934).

Much of her work was in computer science and she was considered a trailblazer in the field. In 1952 she and her team created the first computer language “compiler,” which made it possible to write programs for multiple machines. She was also a leader in development of word-based computer languages and worked to make computers more accessible. She was honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Hopper was a naval reservist for 20 years and retired as a rear admiral at 79, making her the oldest serving officer in the U.S. armed forces at the time. She also taught at Vassar College.

Students and activists celebrated the rebranding as a major victory.

“People are happy with this name. A woman who really did a lot for women in the United States,” said John Lugo of the Change the Name Coalition.

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