A group of Yale University students and alumni is circulating a petition calling for the school's Calhoun College to be renamed amid a nationwide push to remove the Confederate flag and symbols from public places. As of Monday morning, more than 1,200 people had signed a Google Doc arguing that it's disrespectful for Yale to have a building honoring John C. Calhoun, the 19th century vice president and senator from South Carolina and "one of the most prolific defenders of slavery and white supremacy in American history."
"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," the petition reads. "It conveys disrespect toward black perspectives and serves a barrier toward racial inclusiveness. Calhoun College will always preclude minority students from feeling truly at home at Yale."
Calhoun College, one of Yale's 12 residential schools, was named after 1804 alumnus Calhoun in 1932. Its website notes there is no direct link between the college and the statesman, though recent years have seen several efforts to rebrand it. The latest push started in 2006, when a law student suggested hyphenating the title to include the surname of the first black man to graduate with a doctoral degree in the United States: Calhoun-Bouchet College.
But the petitioners want Calhoun's name gone completely. They say Calhoun, who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832 under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, defended states' rights to practice slavery his entire life. (He died 11 years before the Civil War broke out.) He was "a proud champion of the view that blacks were not equal, could never be equal, and would always be subservient to whites," the petition reads. Calhoun famously defended slavery as a "positive good" rather than a "necessary evil."
The Yale students' demands come amid a wave of protests against Confederate symbols in the U.S. The June 17 massacre at a black church in Charleston by an avowed white racist fueled calls to a sudden movement to remove Confederate flags and symbols from statehouses and stores. Schools have also taken up the debate, with institutions from Houston's Lee High School to South Carolina's Clemson University discussing name changes.
Yale invites the discussion, spokeswoman Karen Peart told the Associated Press about the Calhoun petition. “The tragedy in Charleston, on top of countless preceding tragedies in our country’s history, has elevated public opinion and discourse on difficult subjects that have too long been avoided,” she said.
Roughly 9 percent of Yale's students are black. About 72 percent identify as white.