Better that students learn about slavery and understand how to argue against it than whitewash it from memory.
That philosophy helped guide Yale University’s president to decide not to rename the residential college named after leading slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.
President Peter Salovey announced and explained his decision, along with the naming of two new residential colleges, in a campus-wide email Wednesday evening. The text follows; after which appears a statement from Yale’s Women’s Center arguing that a new school should have been named after Aretha Franklin instead.:
To The Yale Community:
I write to you today to announce decisions regarding (a) the title of “master” in the residential colleges, (b) the name of Calhoun College, and (c) the names for Yale’s two new residential colleges. These decisions are the product of extensive consultation involving students, faculty, alumni, administrators, and the fellows of the Yale Corporation.
In October 2014, I first wrote to solicit your advice on naming the new colleges, which will welcome students in 2017. Addressing the freshman class last fall, in the midst of conversations about understanding our nation’s history of slavery, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and I talked about memorials on our own campus, in particular Calhoun College. Established in 1932, the college’s name commemorates John C. Calhoun, a Yale Class of 1804 graduate, statesman, and political theorist, who, while serving as a member of the House of Representatives, senator, and vice president of the United States, was a prominent advocate for and defender of the repugnant institution of slavery.
Our community’s engagement with the issues related to residential college names led us also to examine the title of “master,” the honorific designation for the head of each college. The title is rooted in ancient and medieval traditions of learning, but it is also associated with the ownership of slaves.
More than 5,000 members of the Yale community submitted comments about names for the new colleges, Calhoun College, or the title of “master.” It comes as no surprise that subsequent conversations have been wide-ranging and thoughtful. People of goodwill have differed sharply over their preferences regarding names and titles, and over the meaning and significance of bestowing or changing them. I have been moved by the careful reflection and insights evident in the comments received, and impressed by the historical scholarship that informed many of them.
I extend my gratitude to all who engaged in these discussions. Your participation is a powerful reminder of how profoundly you care about this great institution, and the decisions announced today benefited deeply from your involvement.
The Title of “Master” in the Residential Colleges
The term “master,” when used to describe the role in the residential colleges, will be changed to “head of college.”
The use of “master” as a title at Yale is a legacy of the college systems at Oxford and Cambridge. The term derives from the Latin magister, meaning “chief, head, director, teacher,” and it appears in the titles of university degrees (master of arts, master of science, and others) and in many aspects of the larger culture (master craftsman, master builder). Some members of our community argued that discarding the term “master” would interject into an ancient collegiate tradition a racial narrative that has never been associated with its use in the academy. Others maintained that regardless of its history of use in the academy, the title—especially when applied to an authority figure—carries a painful and unwelcome connotation that can be difficult or impossible for some students and residential college staff to ignore.
Among the many comments considered on this matter, the thoughts and recommendations of the current Council of Masters, the twelve heads of the existing residential colleges, were especially salient. The council deliberated at length, informed by a multitude of discussions with students, staff, faculty, and fellows, as well as by reflections submitted to an online site open to all members of each residential college community. The council also monitored similar discussions at other colleges and universities, although its members were determined to arrive at their recommendations bearing in mind Yale’s distinctive traditions and culture.
The council found that making a recommendation to change the title was far from simple. People held a wide range of views, not as strongly correlated as some might have predicted with circumstances of age, race, or position in the college community. Nothing about the term itself is intrinsically tied to Yale’s history prior to 1930, or to the relationships that students of each generation have formed or will form with the individuals who lead their colleges. Moreover, a decision to stop using the term “master” does not compromise the study of larger historical issues. In short, the reasons to change the title of “master” proved more compelling than the reasons to keep it, and the current masters themselves no longer felt it appropriate to be addressed in that manner.
Not incidental to the discussion was the task of finding an alternative title that speaks to the definition and responsibilities of the office. In this respect, “head of college” is the most logical and straightforward choice. In its favor is that archival records show that “head” and “headship” were placeholders for the title in the original planning documents. Heads of college may be addressed as professor, doctor, or Mr. or Ms., as applicable or as they prefer.
The name of Calhoun College will remain.
I feel compelled to take the proper path for an educational and research institution whose motto is “light and truth.” We are a university, and through teaching and learning about the most troubling aspects of our past, our community will be better prepared to rise to the challenges of the present and the future.
After a careful review of student and alumni responses, scholarly views, and public commentary—which were exceptionally thoughtful, measured, and helpful on all aspects of the question—it became evident that renaming could have the opposite effect of the one intended. Removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.
Ours is a nation that continues to refuse to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of this history, as exemplified by the decision to recognize an ardent defender of slavery by naming a college for him. Erasing Calhoun’s name from a much-beloved residential college risks masking this past, downplaying the lasting effects of slavery, and substituting a false and misleading narrative, albeit one that might allow us to feel complacent or, even, self-congratulatory. Retaining the name forces us to learn anew and confront one of the most disturbing aspects of Yale’s and our nation’s past. I believe this is our obligation as an educational institution.
The decision to keep Calhoun College’s name reflects the importance of this vital educational imperative, but the members of the university leadership and I did not overlook other significant concerns in considering both sides of the argument. Many alumni and current students of Calhoun College believe passionately that the name constitutes present honor paid to an egregious defender of slavery, and it is an offensive and oppressive reminder of racial subordination that should be removed. I share many of these convictions, but disagree with the conclusion. To ensure that our community acquires a deeper, more consistent, and more explicit understanding of our institution’s past, Yale will begin an interactive history project, starting with an examination of the legacy of John C. Calhoun. The project will rely for its implementation on our scholars, students, and staff. We will create a dynamic digital platform to illuminate the lesser-known people, events, and narratives behind the familiar facades we see as we walk through the campus. This project will evolve over time, elucidating those aspects of our campus’s history about which we can be proud, but also those that we find troubling.
We will also hold a juried competition, open to the entire Yale community, to select a work of art that will be displayed permanently on the grounds of Calhoun College. In this competition, I will ask entrants to propose works that respond to the realities and consequences of Calhoun’s life. I will encourage the jury to give the widest possible consideration to different creative approaches. A member of Yale’s artistic community will serve as chair of the jury, which will include student, faculty, staff, and alumni representatives.
These efforts join with the ongoing work of the Committee on Art in Public Places, which is assessing artistic representations across our campus and making recommendations for ways that art can help us to engage with and understand our past.
Naming the New Residential Colleges
The new residential colleges will be named for Anna Pauline Murray and Benjamin Franklin.
The northern-most college, sited closest to Science Hill, Pauli Murray College will honor a Yale alumna (’65 J.S.D., ’79 Hon. D.Div.) noted for her achievements in law and religion, and for her leadership in civil rights and the advancement of women. Pauli Murray enrolled at Hunter College in the 1920s, graduating in 1933 after deferring her studies following the Great Depression. Later, she began an unsuccessful campaign to enter the all-white University of North Carolina. Murray’s case received national publicity, and she became widely recognized as a civil rights activist.
A graduate of Howard Law School, Murray had an extraordinary legal career as a champion of racial and gender equity. United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall cited her book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, for its influence on the lawyers fighting segregation laws. President John F. Kennedy appointed her to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Awarded a fellowship by the Ford Foundation, Murray pursued a doctorate in law at Yale in order to further her scholarly work on gender and racial justice. She co-authored Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII, in which she drew parallels between gender-based discrimination and Jim Crow laws. In 1965, she received her J.S.D. from Yale Law School, the first African-American to do so. Her dissertation was entitled, Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy. Immediately thereafter, she served as counsel in White v. Crook, which successfully challenged discrimination on the basis of sex and race in jury selection. She was a cofounder, with thirty-one others, of the National Organization for Women.
Murray was a vice president of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina; she left to become a professor at Brandeis University, where she earned tenure and taught until 1973. She was the first person to teach African-American studies and women’s studies at Brandeis.
The final stage of Murray’s career continued a life marked by confronting challenges and breaking down barriers. At age 63, inspired by her connections with other women in the Episcopal Church, she left Brandeis and enrolled at the General Theological Seminary. She became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.
Pauli Murray represents the best of Yale: a preeminent intellectual inspired to lead and prepared to serve her community and her country.
The southern of the two new colleges, bridging Science Hill and the central campus, Benjamin Franklin College will recognize the recipient of a Yale honorary degree (1753 Hon. M.A.) whose immense accomplishments span the arts, the sciences, government, and service to society. The forty-one published volumes of his papers, which contain the record of Benjamin Franklin’s life correspondence, are among the Yale University Library’s most important collections. The Franklin Papers represent the work of many Yale scholars and editors and, among the historical insights they offer, shed light on Franklin’s relationship with Yale University. He carried on a decades-long correspondence with Yale President Ezra Stiles on subjects from scientific research to the growing collections of Yale’s library.
Franklin was a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence; a signatory of that document, of the Treaty of Paris, and of the U.S. Constitution; minister to Sweden and France; and the first U.S. Postmaster General. Franklin was a polymath, an innovator, and a self-taught scientist as well as a founding father. He invented the lightning rod, glass harmonica, Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, and he made key scientific discoveries related to electricity, the wave theory of light, meteorology, and oceanography. He also was the founder of two great academic institutions. In 1755, Franklin and his associates opened the College of Philadelphia—which, in 1791, became the University of Pennsylvania. And, in 1787 he founded Franklin College, which in 1853 merged with Marshall College to become Franklin and Marshall College.
History also sheds light on Franklin’s past as both a slaveholder and an abolitionist. He owned slaves throughout much of his life, yet toward the end of his life became a leader in the emerging abolitionist movement. In 1787 he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, an organization that dedicated itself to political activism against slavery, as well as the provision of legal aid and education to slaves and other African-Americans. One of Franklin’s last acts before his death in 1790 was to petition Congress to “devise means for removing this Inconsistency [slavery] from the Character of the American People.” Urging “mercy and Justice,” he insisted that “equal liberty was originally the Portion” and “is still the Birthright of all men.”
Benjamin Franklin’s commitment as a scientist, statesman, philosopher, and writer shaped our nation. In adopting his name for one of the new colleges, we honor as well the generosity of Charles B. Johnson ’54 B.A., who considers Franklin a personal role model. Mr. Johnson’s contribution to enable the construction of the new colleges is the single largest gift made to Yale. Pauli Murray College and Benjamin Franklin College, which will open Yale’s doors to thousands of additional future students, would not have been possible without his philanthropic vision.
Few institutions possess the community that ours does—one that transcends generations, cultural backgrounds, philosophical ideals, and political beliefs, comprising thousands of individuals united by their love for and dedication to the university. The names given to spaces and to buildings across our campus should be more reflective of the diversity that is present-day Yale and the collective history that has brought us into our university’s fourth century. Future opportunities to name Yale buildings will allow us to continue our pursuit of this goal by considering other Yale luminaries such as Grace Murray Hopper, Edward Bouchet, and others cited in the many comments offered by members of our community.
We should all take immense pride in the wide engagement, thoughtful conversation, and respectful debate that brought us to the decisions announced today, and we must continue to look forward, and to lead, by focusing on the ways that Yale contributes to achieving real societal change. We will create on our campus the most inclusive educational environment in the world, so that all who join our university community understand—and are enabled to take the fullest advantage of—everything that Yale offers.
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology
Yale Women’s Center Statement
On April 27, the Yale Corporation chose to keep the name of Calhoun College, despite being made aware of much student pain and protest. It also announced the names of the new residential colleges: Pauli Murray College and Benjamin Franklin College.
While we are thrilled by the Corporation’s decision to name a college after Murray, an exceptional activist, poet, and theologian, the Corporation’s decision to honor Benjamin Franklin as the namesake is one of the new colleges is disappointing and reveals the ways in which Yale has failed to listen, or has prioritized other factors over the wellbeing of its students.
As students, we choose to honor Aretha Franklin. She was an extraordinary musician, often called “the voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” and was a recipient of an honorary degree from Yale in 2010. President Obama once said, “American history wells up when Aretha sings.” Like Aretha, we’re just asking for the respect we deserve.