17 Feb 2017

Inadvertent Irony at Yale

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Leah Libresco Sergeant Y’11 contemplates Yale’s renaming of Calhoun College, and observes that, in a peculiar way, the Jacobins and their toadies are really honoring John C. Calhoun.

Late last week, Yale announced that it would remove the name of John C. Calhoun from one of its residential colleges—but clarified that the name would not be expunged wherever it was literally written in stone as part of the building’s architecture. While the college will officially bear the new name of Grace Hopper College, honoring a pioneering computer scientist and veteran, to chisel off Calhoun’s name would be to neglect the “obligation not to efface the history.” (It would be expensive, to boot.)

Other than the physical presence of the name, there’s little else to erase about Calhoun. The drawn-out fights (and serial committees) questioning the appropriateness of Calhoun’s name miss how little tradition exists to be expunged—in Calhoun’s namesake college, or in any of the other Yale colleges.

When I was an undergraduate, John C. Calhoun went largely unmentioned and unthought of in residential college life. If the college had instead been named (as a puckish friend suggested) for William Barron Calhoun (Yale class of 1814, a lawyer and politician from Massachusetts, ardent opponent of slavery), nothing about the day-to-day life of the college would have been different.

Yale’s residential colleges derive very little personality from their namesakes, or from anything else. Freshmen are assigned to them randomly, which prevents the colleges from developing reputations (as “the arty one” or “the sporty one”). And Yale’s goal in recent years has been to homogenize the residential colleges even further, pooling money that alumni had given to their own colleges and distributing it equally, so that no college may have more or do more than another. …

Why have a namesake at all, if the college is not to be colored by his or her character? In my own college, Jonathan Edwards, there was never a mention of the Puritan preacher’s theology—except that our intramural team was called the Spiders, a reference to his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. Jonathan Edwards’s theology exists for J.E. students only as a quaint, even comical, historical artifact. Why give a man the trappings of honor without ceding him any respect?

John C. Calhoun, in being removed, was awarded an odd sort of honor: His ideas were treated as relevant and dangerous. …

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4 Feedbacks on "Inadvertent Irony at Yale"

Cactusjack

Still think they could have just changed it to Algonquin J. Calhoun and problem solved.



GoneWithTheWind

Those opposed to the change should have trumped up some fake news that claimed he was gay.



Seattle Sam

How does what Yale did differ much from Stalin’s airbrushing his enemies out of old photos?



OneGuy

It is a sign. There is a saying that you don’t want to live in a town where a major street is renamed to MLK Blvd. Where I live the major city in the state reports a shooting or some kind of violence every weekend on the nightly news. It always happens on MLK blvd or within a block of MLK blvd. The street was renamed some 20 years ago and has gone downhill since. That renaming was the signal. If you owned a house near there it was time to sell, beat the rush. If you worked in town and stopped by the 7-11 or gas station nearby it was time to look somewhere else to shop. I can’t predict with any certainty that Yale is going this way but it’s a sign.



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