“A Convenient Way To Sidestep History”

Paul Bass Photo Inside the college walls, the title of “master” was eliminated. Outside the name of a leading slavery advocate, John C. Calhoun, remained at the entrance.

Those actions, taken recently by Yale University sent a muddled, mixed message, rather than effectively addressing racial concerns on campus.

So concluded three Yale professors in a roundtable discussion on the recent campus unrest. The professors — Law School Professor Tracey Meares; Alicia Schmidt Camacho, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, as well as what until now has been called associate “master” of Yale’s Ezra Stiles residential college; and Vesla Weaver, as assistant professor of African-American studies and political science —  held the discussion on the latest episode of WNHH radio’s “Kica’s Corner” program hosted by Kica Matos.

They began the discussion by focusing on a series of decisions announced on April 27 by Yale President Peter Salovey in response to demands by student and faculty protesters that included the removal of John Calhoun’s name from a residential college. Salovey announced that Yale will no longer use the title “master” for the person in charge of each of its residential colleges. He also announced that the name of Calhoun College —  honoring leading slavery advocate John Calhoun —  will not be changed.

The panelists all agreed that the name should have been changed.

The “master” and Calhoun decisions —  as well as the decision to name one new residential college after a slaveholder (Benjamin Franklin) and another after a pioneering civl-rights attorney, Pauli Murray — “are inconsistent with each other,” argued Camacho. “Where is the vision?”

Meares, who is the only black woman ever to receive tenure at the law school,  noted that a majority of faculty members signed a petition calling for the Calhoun name to be changed. She also noted that a majority students surveyed by the Yale Daily News called for the change — and also believed the university wouldn’t make it.

In his announcement, Salovey argued that keeping Calhoun’s name will promote further discussion of the slavery. He argued that Yale must confront history, not run from it. (His full announcement, including the arguments for it, can be found here.)

“This is such a convenient way of sidestepping history and of not actually doing the right thing,” Weaver argued. “It begs the question: History for whom?

“This is good for white students to grapple with and acknowledge this tormented past. What about black students? How do black students experience this? This is not walking by a memorial. This is where they live. This where they dine. This is where they study. … To keep this name means that Salovey was OK with or didn’t consider the effects on black students.  … When people are reminded of their unequal worth,” they internalize that message and act accordingly.

Click on the above audio file to listen to the full episode of “Kica’s Corner,” which also touched on the decline in ranks of faculty of color at Yale and on recent campus protests.

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posted by: JohnTulin on May 17, 2016  6:34pm

“This is where they live. This where they dine. This is where they study”

True.  This is also where they chose to study, knowing all about Calhoun College.  This is where/what they will benefit from for the rest of their fortunate lives since they will graduate with the golden ticket of a Yale degree. 

Renounce your admission, reject the lifetime of privilege that Mother Yale bestows upon you!  Protest with your transfer application in droves!  Ivy Leaguers of the World Unite!!

posted by: Adelaide on May 17, 2016  7:18pm

Yep, take a word off a sign that most NH RESIDENTS (not yalies) havent even ever noticed…THAT will surely ease racial tensions!! Sigh…when will they use their power for good and not stupidity??!!

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 18, 2016  6:15am

@JohnTulin,

What evidence do you have that High School applicants and later Yale new students knew “all about Calhoun College” when they applied and decided to enroll?

Your passive aggressive “stance” here suggesting that one MUST accept the illicit practices and tradition of a place from which they receive benefits is egregious at best. 

Perhaps you can see this more clearly if someone argues, essentially as you have, that residents of Flint, MI should remain silent about the poisonous water they have been forced to drink because they receive police protection from that same town.

@Adelaide

Taking the name off a building that is inconspicious to most NH residence might not end racial tension.  But it least it won’t stand to celebrate a racist, in our fair city.  And that too is important. 

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 18, 2016  8:43am

As someone not affiliated with Yale, I couldn’t care less about the title change of masters, or Calhoun College. I suspect, however, that part of the apprehension to changing the name of Calhoun College is tied to not wanting to set a precedent that then leads to a University-wide audit of every hung painting, building, hall, college, and room named after someone in order to determine if that person has ever done or said anything reprehensible at any time. For a school founded in the 1700s, that would be an enormous amount of work and to what end? To erase the fact that Yale was around in the 18th century? Are we all prepared to guarantee that we have never said or done anything that future generations (even hundreds of years in the future) will deem offensive and wrong?

Changing the name of Calhoun College may be the right thing to do - I don’t know, but if we applied that standard across the board to Yale, I suspect that many names would need to be changed and in aggregate could result in a whitewashing of history.

posted by: westville man on May 18, 2016  8:46am

A swastika or a Nazi supporter of Hitler during WWII would not be present or honored with a building at Yale.  The Jews wouldn’t allow it and rightly so.  They get to define their oppression like many groups do.

unfortunately, the white, dominant culture, has not allowed Black folks to do the same. See John Tulin for one of the many excuses why not…..

posted by: westville man on May 18, 2016  11:03am

JH-  You may not know if it should be changed, but others do and have told us why.  So we shouldn’t make the easy decisions because there may be some more difficult ones down the road?  And why apply the double standard of allowing others to define their oppression and perspective but not Black folks?  if you need more examples, I’ll be happy to give them to you.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 18, 2016  11:29am

@Jonathan Hopkins,

I’m so SICK of the “whitewashing of history” argument that I could literally throw-up something.  Calhoun did what he did, and his behavior and his fought for beliefs stole the lives of millions of people, even to this day, who were/are directly/indirectly affected by slavery. 

His name off of a college building at Yale does NOT change that, or as you simplictically posit “whitewash history”.  The evil nor the effect of what he did is “washed” from any credible presentation of slavery or from the lives of people who still suffer from his assidiously support of that evil.

Further, your easy dismissal of the magnitude of Calhoun’s crimes against humanity by comparing them to ANY offensive or wrong thing we have done offensive and racially biased.  What Calhoun did was not merely a correctable offensive that was essential to his day and time. He actively advocated for the enslavement of African people, for treating PEOPLE like animals, for the de facto legilized raping of Men and Women, for sellng children away from their parents, at any time in their lives, for beating the skin off people’s backs, until they could no longer humanly endure, or until they died, among other inhumane abusives.  To compare his gross offenses to “anything” that others have done is both offensive and simplistic. 

Perhaps you should do some studying on the evils of slavery, or maybe you intended to be as offensive as you have been here.

posted by: Brutus2011 on May 18, 2016  2:18pm

Slavery was a blight on our history.

The American apartheid born of this affront to humanity persists to this day-centuries later.

My opinion is that Yale could have sent a positive and powerful message in erasing Calhoun’s name.

The caste of skin color stoked by slavery has permeated our nation’s collective consciousness to the point that I sometimes despair.

And, not because of white attitudes towards folks of color, but because of how we have unconsciously internalized those attitudes.

In short, we believe we are inferior.  If we did not, then it would not really matter what other’s opinions were or are ... and our history would likely be very different.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 18, 2016  3:31pm

The intention of my first comment was to discuss the issue that any institution dating from the 18th century has - namely that it likely has some kind of historical connection to reprehensible activities. In principal, how should we address this? Conduct an analysis of every institution suspected of having any connection with reprehensible activities and remove such connections from public view? Is this feasible in a Country that is intrinsically connected to despicable acts of violence, cruelty, and terror against people?

Is the Calhoun label a unique and isolated thing that doesn’t have larger ramifications? That’s an honest question. Should we change the name of “Master’s” degrees to something else? Or because the title of “Master” in the Yale Colleges referred to a person that oversees a group of students, it is an especially offensive term that needed to be changed?