Yale University is stripping the name of a 19th-century alumnus who was an ardent supporter of slavery from one of its residential colleges and renaming it for a more recent graduate, pioneering computer scientist and Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.
The change comes after several years of debate over the ethics of having a college named for former Vice President John C. Calhoun, an 1804 Yale graduate who fought efforts to end slavery in the United States.
The residential college was named for him in the 1930s when it was built. At one point, it contained a stained glass window that depicted a black man in shackles kneeling before Calhoun. The window was later removed.
Protests over Calhoun's legacy and the building's name roiled the university in 2015.
The new name is a shift from university president Peter Salovey. In April, he said the name would not change. By August, he was reconsidering that decision and created a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming from among staff and alumni.
"At that time, as now, I was committed to confronting, not erasing, our history. I was concerned about inviting a series of name changes that would obscure Yale’s past,” Salovey said on a post on Yale's website.
In the end, the committee came up with four principles to follow when considering renaming:
• Whether the person's principal legacy fundamentally conflicts with the university’s mission
• Whether that legacy was contested during the namesake’s lifetime
• Why the university honored that person
• Whether the building has a significant role in forming community at Yale.
“The principles establish a strong presumption against renaming buildings, ensure respect for our past, and enable thoughtful review of any future requests for change,” he said.
The board of trustees voted to rename the college to Hopper on Friday.
Students at Yale were quick to enact the change, taping over a nameplate for Calhoun College and writing Grace Murray Hopper on it instead, with an added note of "Victory!!" below the address.
Calhoun served as U.S. vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war, and was a U.S. senator from South Carolina. He was a leading voice in the first part of the 19th century against the movement to abolish slavery.
Hopper received her master's degree from Yale in 1930 as well as a Ph.D., in mathematics and mathematical physics, in 1934. She worked in the U.S. Navy during WWII. She helped create the first computer compilers and also COBOL, one of the most widely used computer languages in the 1970s. A major annual conference on women and computing is named after her.