Yale University announced Wednesday that it would eliminate the title of “master” for the leaders of its residential colleges and instead will call them, “heads of college,” according to The New York Times. That’s a pretty big step forward for students who have been protesting to bring awareness to racist elements of the campus’ legacy.
One of student protesters’ biggest concerns has not been addressed, however. Yale University President Peter Salovey said the university would keep the name Calhoun College, named after John C. Calhoun, a politician who served in several prominent roles in government, as a member of Congress, U.S. Senator, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and U.S. Vice President. Calhoun was also a dogged opponent of the abolition of slaves. Even at a time when politicians who fought against abolition were dialing down their rhetoric, Calhoun called slavery a “positive good” in a speech to the U.S. Senate in 1837.
Yale added during this announcement that it will look into all of the histories of the people whose names are represented at the school or have a significant place in the campus’ history, including Calhoun.
The university will also name its newest resident colleges after Anna Pauline Murray and Benjamin Franklin. Murray was an activist for civil rights and women’s rights, a lawyer who fought against segregation, and the first black woman who was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood. She will make history again as the first woman and African American a Yale college will be named after. Benjamin Franklin owned slaves and his newspaper ran ads for slaves and notices on runaway slaves. He became involved in abolition later in his life.
The Black Student Alliance at Yale stated on its Facebook page that it welcomed the changes, but said the university has a long way to go in recognizing the concerns of students of color on campus, writing, “This step is promising, but seems to have come in response to the precedent set by Yale’s peer institutions rather than as a response to the concerns raised by students of color. Ultimately, Murray college and the title decision are still long overdue first steps towards creating a better and more inclusive Yale.”
The group also responded to the argument that keeping the Calhoun name would force students to have meaningful conversations about race and the college’s legacy and opposed the naming of a college after Benjamin Franklin, by writing, “Keeping the name Calhoun does not foster learning opportunities. Instead, it only diminishes our ability to combat the heinous nature of slavery and racism. The decision to name the second new residential college after Benjamin Franklin has a similar impact. We remain committed to the idea that residential colleges should be named after people whose legacies offer values applicable to Yale students today, and John C. Calhoun and his advocacy of slavery as a moral good does not meet that bar.”
The fight against keeping the names and images of slaveowners and white supremacists on campus isn’t isolated to Yale University. There have been protests to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson on the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton because Wilson supported segregation and the Ku Klux Klan. Despite sit-ins advocating the removal of the name last fall, Princeton announced it would keep the name earlier this month. Georgetown University students had more success, however. After student sit-ins, the university announced it would rename two campus buildings named after slaveowners. The University of Mississippi also removed its state flag, which has a Confederate battle emblem after students and faculty members argued it fostered a negative campus climate for students of color. Student senators voted to ask administrators to furl the banner last fall, CNN reported.