On Sunday, media personality Geraldo Rivera announced he had stepped down from his role as an associate fellow at Yale, following the university’s decision to rename a college that had once been dedicated to a staunch slavery supporter.
Yale University announced it would change the name of Calhoun College to instead honor Grace Murray Hopper, who was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer during World War II and also helped develop the Mark II and Mark III computers. The school had originally been named for John C. Calhoun, who held several high-profile positions in government, including vice president, senator, and secretary of state. Calhoun called slavery a “positive good.”
Rivera described the university’s decision to cease honoring a champion of slavery and instead recognize a female computer scientist as “intolerant” and “lame.”
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) February 12, 2017
Students, faculty, and alumni have protested against the college’s name since the Fall of 2015, not long after a white supremacist killed nine people as they sat in a Charleston, South Carolina church. After the murders, students at several colleges and universities began demanding changes to university campuses, such as getting rid of Confederate symbols and statues of Confederate leaders. Georgetown University renamed two schools previously named after presidents who organized the sale of slaves.
The fight to change the Calhoun College’s name resurfaced in the news when a black cafeteria worker was arrested for breaking a window at the school’s dining hall. The window depicted a scene of slaves carrying bales of cotton. The cafeteria worker, Corey Menafee, said, “It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.” Yale dropped the case against him.
In their petition to change the name of the college, Yale students wrote, “Seeing the world through other people’s eyes is a necessary condition for social progress. Respect for history in the eyes of some is the tolerance of white supremacy in the eyes of others. Like the official display of the Confederate flag in South Carolina, Calhoun College represents an indifference to centuries of pain and suffering among the black population.”
In a conference call with journalists announcing the name change, Yale President Peter Salovey said, “John C. Calhoun’s principles, his legacy as an ardent supporter of slavery as a positive good, are at odds with this university.”