Yale has decided on names for its two new residential colleges opening in 2017, and students are upset that one of those names is Benjamin Franklin.
The other college will be named after Pauli Murray, a black civil rights activist who fought for racial and gender equality. The news comes after months of protests from Yale students of color about discrimination and poor racial relations on campus.
Students have also taken issue with Calhoun College being named after slave owner James C. Calhoun. However, the university has decided not to change the name, claiming that leaving it gives Yale a chance to educate students about its racist background.
A press release issued on Wednesday states:
Yale President Peter Salovey announced today that the university would retain the name of Calhoun College, one of 12 undergraduate residential colleges, to encourage the campus community to confront the history of slavery, and to teach that history and its legacy. He also announced that the university’s two new undergraduate residential colleges, slated to open in 2017, will be named for exemplary American leaders Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin, and that Yale will change the title of “master” to “head of college” in all of the residential colleges.
In his statement, Salovey said, “Both Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray were committed life-long learners who believed in the power of education to transform individuals and societies.”
He also said of the decision to keep the Calhoun name, “Ours is a nation that often refuses to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of that history. We cannot erase American history but we can confront it, teach it, and learn from it.”
Current students, faculty and alumni went through a submission process to select names for the new colleges before Yale trustees reached a consensus. Still, the Franklin decision doesn’t sit right with some students.
Many students were perplexed by the selection of Franklin, who received an honorary degree from Yale. Franklin, like many other founding fathers, was once a slaveholder himself before he became involved in the abolitionist movement. Mr. Salovey explained that Franklin was a “personal hero and role model” of Charles B. Johnson, a businessman and Yale alumnus who donated $250 million to pay for the new buildings — the largest gift in the school’s history — and who suggested the honor.
The moves all seem like attempts to progress without completely breaking the school’s traditions.
Yale African-American studies professor Crystal Feimster told NYT she was “deeply disappointed with the decision not to rename Calhoun,” and called the choice of Franklin “a missed opportunity.”
The smarter decision here is Yale’s choice to honor Pauli Murray. Salovey describes her as an activist who was “at the intellectual forefront of the battles that defined 20th-century America and continue to be part of our discourse today: civil rights, women’s rights, and the role of spirituality in modern society.”
Murray, a Howard University law graduate and confirmed badass, earned a doctorate in law at Yale in 1965 and used her legal education to fight segregation and gender discrimination. Notably, via Yale’s press release:
She co-authored “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex discrimination and Title VII,” in which she drew parallels between gender-based discrimination and Jim Crow laws. In 1965, she received her J.S.D. from the Yale Law School, becoming the first African-American to do so. Her dissertation was titled “Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy.” Immediately thereafter, she served as counsel in White v. Crook, which successfully challenged discrimination on the basis of sex and race in jury selection. She was a cofounder, with 31 others, of the National Organization for Women.
(Former Jez staffer Irin Carmon says Murray was even denied housing when she attended Yale because she was black.)
Yale’s “master” tradition, a major complaint among students, was one the points laid out in a list of demands made this past November, some of which have been either discussed or executed.
Changing the title was a point of contention among faculty; some argued that it was simple tradition that had no link to slavery while others argued that language matters.