Is Yale on the verge of changing its name?


My alma mater, Yale University, embroiled in the latest PC controversy about the renaming of one of its dormitories, or residential colleges, named after John C. Calhoun, has announced a process under which students may petition to have the name of Calhoun College (or any other residential college) changed. One wonders however, if this will only be the beginning, rather than the end, because Yale itself is also named for someone connected to the slave trade, Elihu Yale.

This is hardly a new development, politically speaking, for Yale. In my day there were fliers in big 50 point font screaming "LESBIAN IS LUSCIOUS!" posted in Yale Station; Morse College hosted a huge sculpture of a giant lipstick on a tank, the statue of Nathan Hale was regularly defaced on the Old Campus, an oval pool that dripped water seasonally called the "Women's Table" was put in front of Sterling Memorial Library; and people wore pink triangle buttons and even giant pink triangle sweaters as a fashion statement. Viewed in this light, the Calhoun controversy is only the latest iteration of the restless urge to find wounds on the basis of race, sex, and class.

First the Calhoun controversy. I never thought much about the name when I attended; but now with a groundswell arising to change it, I have to wonder why it was named for him in the first place. Most people gneerally know that Calhoun was an pro-south, pro-slavery advocate, but did you also know Calhoun was Secretary of War (Defense) under President Monroe? Did you know that he was a Vice President of the United States not just for one term, but two? In fact,

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He was the only Yale graduate to be elected to a federal executive office in the school's first two centuries, until the election of U.S. President William Howard Taft in 1909.

In that light, the decision to name a residential college after him in 1933 makes a little more sense, even if you and I in contemporary times would have probably chosen someone else. But students have now been given an avenue to appeal to change the name of Calhoun College.

On Friday, the university announced a new procedure for considering the renaming of university buildings, along with an official reconsideration of the controversial decision last spring to keep the Calhoun name. A new — and final — verdict is expected early next year.

That policy requires anyone calling for a renaming to submit a formal application, including a dossier of historical research justifying the renaming according to a set of general principles created by an independent 12-person committee named in August by the university’s president, Peter Salovey, in response to continuing furor over the Calhoun decision.

Don't expect leftists to be satisfied if they score a victory there. Do you think that's the only name connected to the slave trade at Yale? What about Styles College, the dormitory named for another slave owner? (He did other things too, but let's just call him a slave owner, ok?)

If Yale is opening the door to renaming its residential colleges, how can it stop there, when Elihu Yale, whom Yale is named for, was also involved in the slave trade?

As an official for the East India Company in Madras (present-day Chennai), Yale presided over an important node of the Indian Ocean slave trade.

In the 1680s, when Yale served on the governing council at Fort St. George on the Madras coast, a devastating famine led to an uptick in the local slave trade. As more and more bodies became available on the open market, Yale and other company officials took advantage of the labor surplus, buying hundreds of slaves and shipping them to the English colony on Saint Helena. Yale participated in a meeting that ordered a minimum of ten slaves sent on every outbound European ship. 5 In just one month in 1687, Fort St. George exported at least 665 individuals. 6 As governor and president of the Madras settlement, Yale enforced the ten-slaves-per-vessel rule. On two separate occasions, he sentenced “black Criminals” accused of burglary to suffer whipping, branding, and foreign enslavement. 7 Although he probably did not own any of these people – the majority were held as the property of the East India Company – he certainly profited both directly and indirectly from their sale.

So how can Yale stop at renaming residential colleges? The answer is that once it opens the door to this, it can't. Elihu Yale did good things and bad, but even though the university named for him is not (yet) associated in people's minds with the slave trade, just as Calhoun College is not, that will not be good enough. It will never be over for the Left, even after Harvard and Yale become Che Guevara College and Obama U.

[originally published in AT]



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