Controversial Calhoun College to be named after iconic Grace Hopper

13 Feb 2017

Admiral Grace Hopper. Image: James S Davis/US Navy

Following the controversy over the continued use of the name Calhoun College at Yale University, its board of trustees have updated it to honour the ‘first lady of software’, Grace Hopper.

Despite being one of the most prestigious universities in the US, Yale University has been embroiled in controversy for decades over the continued use of the name Calhoun College, named after the former South Carolina statesman John C Calhoun.

The controversy stems from the fact that Calhoun was a known white supremacist who strongly promoted the continuation of slavery in the 19th century.

Removal of white supremacy legacy

Despite numerous calls for the organisation to remove Calhoun from the college’s name, Yale University refused to do so on the grounds that it would be an attempt to rewrite history.

In the current climate of tense race relations in the US, protests continued on for months, and have now seemingly forced the university’s hand.

In an unprecedented decision, Yale announced that the college will no longer be called Calhoun College, but will be named in honour of Grace Hopper, the pioneering computer scientist and so-called ‘first lady of software’.

For her work at the forefront of computer science as far back as the 1940s, Admiral Hopper was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In a statement, Yale’s president Peter Salovey said the decision to change the name was “not one we took lightly”.

“John C Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” Salovey said.

‘Exceptionally strong case’ put forward

Salovey admitted that in this instance, an “exceptionally strong case” was presented to him and the university’s board of trustees.

“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,” he said.

“These concerns remain paramount, but we have since established an enduring set of principles that address them. The principles establish a strong presumption against renaming buildings, ensure respect for our past and enable thoughtful review of any future requests for change.”

Salovey said he and the trustees asked for suggestions of a replacement name and noted a clear majority favouring Hopper.

“This community input was indispensable: Hopper’s name was mentioned by more individuals than any other, reflecting the strong feeling within our community that her achievements and life of service reflect Yale’s mission and core values.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic