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Yale changes name of college to distance history of racism

Yale renamed Calhoun College in honor of Grace Murray Hopper. Some students wanted the building now called Carolina Hall to be named Hurston Hall. 

Yale renamed Calhoun College in honor of Grace Murray Hopper. Some students wanted the building now called Carolina Hall to be named Hurston Hall. 

The name change honors Grace Murray Hopper, a distinguished alum of Yale.

“The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” said Peter Salovey, president of Yale, in a press release.

Grace Murray Hopper, a computer scientist and mathematician, graduated from Yale in 1930 with a master’s degree in mathematics and later earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics.

Harry Watson, a UNC history professor specializing in southern culture, said there is an obvious movement throughout universities to distance themselves from people with racially discriminant ties.

“The big picture is that Americans in general and especially Americans connected with our universities are very uncomfortable with any naming or monument that seems to show a special respect to people who were involved in slavery especially for racial discrimination,” Watson said.

UNC enacted a similar change in May 2015, changing the name of Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall.

Chuck Duckett, a member of the UNC Board of Trustees, was involved with the renaming of Carolina Hall and spoke to the Yale University board tasked with renaming Calhoun College.

Duckett said the UNC building’s renaming process was long and thoughtful.

“I mean, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours,” Duckett said. “Everybody put in the time and the effort and the board did what they promised to do.”

The Real Silent Sam Coalition led protests to rename the building to Hurston Hall after Zora Neale Hurston, but the name wasn’t mentioned at the final meeting.

There are several other buildings on UNC’s campus named after people with ties to racism or slavery, including Hamilton Hall, named for J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton, and Aycock Residence Hall, named for former state Gov. Charles Aycock who supported segregated schools.

Watson said buildings will not be renamed anytime soon due to UNC’s 16-year renaming freeze enacted by the BOT.

Salovey asked John Witt, a Yale law professor, to chair the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming at Yale, which outlined four principles to guide any consideration of renaming.

“1) Whether the namesake’s principal legacy fundamentally conflicts with the university’s mission; (2) whether that principal legacy was contested during the namesake’s lifetime; (3) the reasons the university honored that person; and (4) whether the building so named plays a substantial role in forming community at Yale,” the Yale University press release said.

The freeze on renaming buildings at UNC was established to provide adequate time for UNC students to understand the history of the names on the buildings, according to a press release by Gary Moss, managing editor of UNC’s University Gazette.

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“There is a lot of history here, and people need to understand the history of it,” Duckett said.