Yale students, New Haven activists win Calhoun College name change

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Time Period:  
12 November
10 February
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New Haven, Connecticut
Location Description: 
Yale University
The goal of the campaign was to change the name of Calhoun College.

At Yale University in New Haven, first year students are assigned to a residential college. These residential colleges function as communities and homes for the students and become an important part of life on campus. One of these colleges was named after John C. Calhoun, a Yale alum and the seventh Vice President of the United States. Calhoun was, however, an ardent defender and proponent of slavery, making the name of the college controversial. With racial tensions rising on campus and around the country, in 2015 student activists revived concerns and called for a name change.


Calhoun College

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Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yale4912.JPG

Approximately 200 students marched to President Salovey’s house at night on 12 November 2015 and presented new demands, including the institution of an ethnic studies requirement for graduation, increased funding for various cultural centers on campus, rename Calhoun College, and get rid of the title of “master” (basically the head of a dormitory). The group that compiled the demands, Next Yale, intended to “hold Yale accountable to its students of color”, according to one of the leaders. In a later statement, President Salovey explained that all renaming decisions were not under his jurisdiction but the Yale Corporation’s.

Also that November, three students from the Yale Divinity School started an online public petition demanding the name change. By the end of the campaign, they had gathered almost 18,000 signatures.

On 27 April 2016, President Salovey announced that the Yale Corporation had decided to keep the name of the college. Student activists, as well as allies from the greater New Haven community, refused to accept this as an answer. These activists held a mass demonstration in front of Calhoun College on 29 April, calling it a “renaming ceremony” for the college. They dressed in black and held signs of potential other names for the college, with about 600 participating in the rally. Several students spoke, sang, and shared stories, all while calling on Yale’s administration to reverse the decision. Students chanted “Calhoun’s gotta go.” Many professors also attended the rally, showing their support for the activists. The day before, at a town hall held by Salovey to hear from students about the decision, student protesters threw dollar bills down on Salovey, highlighting the prioritization of money over student demands. Many wore duct tape over their mouths to protest the decision, while others chose to aggressively question Salovey about the decision, as well as the state of race relations on campus. Faculty also drafted an open letter with almost 400 signatures to Salovey and the Yale Corporation, expressing their dissatisfaction.

A tense moment in the campaign came on 13 June 2016, when Corey Menafee, a dishwasher at Yale, smashed a windowpane in Calhoun’s dining hall. The stained glass window had an image of slaves picking cotton. Police arrested Menafee, and he decided to resign from his job. In an interview with the New Haven Independent, Menafee said, “I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.” Eventually, the charges were dropped, and Yale rehired him, but his arrest served to further ignite the activist community.

In the face of backlash from students and faculty, Salovey announced in early August that the college would create a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. The committee established standards and guidelines for renaming, with Salovey admitting that the Calhoun decision could have used a more careful process. An alum and two professors comprised the Calhoun committee.

With the committee established, students continued to pressure the administration in other ways. Menafee’s action and subsequent arrest prompted action from Yale student activists, who supported Menafee wholeheartedly. At this point, Yale students began to organize more with coalitions in New Haven, establishing a Change the Name coalition. Unidad Latina en Acción, a group from New Haven, began holding weekly protests every Friday after Menafee’s arrest.

On 28 October 2016, 200 students and activists from the community came together in a rally called “Change the Name.” They gathered on the New Haven Green and gave speeches, including one by Menafee himself. Activists marched to the building housing the President’s office and delivered a letter demanding the name change. When Salovey did not answer the door, they chanted “We want Salovey!” Ultimately, they delivered the letter to the Director of Administrative Affairs instead.

The Change the Name coalition continued to hold protests every Friday outside Calhoun College, usually holding an orange banner reading “Change the Name” and marching across the street in front of cars when the intersection light turned red. These continued until 10 February. At the 10 February demonstration, New Haven police arrested four New Haven activists for blocking traffic and released them later that day.

In a victory for student and community activists, on 11 February 2017, Salovey announced that Calhoun College would be renamed Grace Hopper College. Grace Hopper was a graduate of Yale known for her leadership and advancements in the field of computer science. In an email to the school, Salovey wrote “[Calhoun’s] legacy as a white supremacist...who passionately supported slavery as a positive good fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values.”

Research Notes
Cheng, Amy and Sara Tabin. (2017). “Name change seen as victory by New Haven activists.” 14 Feb. 2017. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329195920/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2017/02/14/name-change-seen-as-victory-by-new-haven-activists/

Enkhtamir, Agnes and Sara Tabin. (2017). “Four arrested at Friday’s Calhoun protest.” 13 Feb. 2017. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200009/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2017/02/13/four-arrested-at-fridays-calhoun-protest/

Hamid, Zainab and David Yaffe-Bellany. (2016). “Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming releases report.” 2 Dec. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from:


Hamid, Zainab, Rachel Triesman and David Yaffe-Bellany. (2017). “Calhoun College to be renamed for Grace Hopper GRD ‘34.” 11 February 2017. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200136/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2017/02/11/calhoun-college-renamed/

Schick, Finnegan and Jon Victor. (2016). “Dining hall worker loses job after smashing Calhoun windowpane.” 11 Jul. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200159/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/07/11/dining-hall-worker-loses-job-after-smashing-calhoun-windowpane/

Shimer, David. (2015). “College name choice falls to Corporation.” 30 Nov. 2015. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200236/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/11/30/college-name-choices-fall-to-corporation/

Shimer, David and David Yaffe-Bellany. (2016). “Calhoun to remain namesake.” 28 Apr. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200306/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/04/28/calhoun-to-remain-namesake/

Shimer, David and Victor Wang. (2016). “Renaming committee established.” 26 Aug. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200332/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/08/26/renaming-committee-established/

Shimer, David and Victor Wang. (2016). “Students hold Calhoun renaming ceremony.” 29 Apr. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200357/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/04/29/students-hold-calhoun-renaming-ceremony/

Shimer, David and Victor Wang. (2015). “Students submit new demands to Saolvey.” 13 Nov. 2015. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200429/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/11/13/students-submit-new-demands-to-salovey/

Tabin, Sara and Jingyi Cui. (2016). “200 gather in coalition protest against Calhoun.” 31 Oct. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200506/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/10/31/200-gather-in-coalition-protest-against-calhoun/

Wang, Victor and David Yaffe-Bellamy. (2016). “Students confront Salovey at town hall.” 29 Apr. 2016. Web site: Yale Daily News. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170329200530/http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/04/29/students-confront-salovey-at-town-hall/

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ploy Promrat 01/04/2017