Campuses should not change buildings named after historical figures
Yale University announced that it will rename the Calhoun residential college to honor Grace Murray Hopper, a Navy rear admiral who made strides in computer electronics research.
Even though namesake John C. Calhoun was a racist South Carolina politician, does wiping his name from a building make up for everything he stood for that conflicts with the society that we live in today?
The Calhoun dormitories were constructed at Yale in 1933, eighty-three years after the death of Calhoun, a Yale alumnus.
Not only is he the building’s namesake, but there are also depictions of his likeness as well as slaves carrying bales in several stained-glass pieces on the building.
This move by the Yale administration has caused the resignation of Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera as an Associate Fellow. On Twitter, Rivera announced his resignation saying it had, “Been an honor but intolerant insistence on political correctness is lame.”
It would be wrong to change the name of a building of a man who was, at one point, prominent enough to have his name honorarily applied to a building at Yale. We must never forget that, ever.
It serves as a benchmark for how far we have come as a country.
The Calhoun that the Yale dormitory is named after is also the namesake of the street that runs through our University and the lofts that are situated on it.
Calhoun was partially responsible for the annexing Texas into the Union, although it was to maintain balance between slave-holding states and free states.
So is it really that surprising that there is an old road running through Houston that got named after him?
A year and a half ago, The Cougar published an editorial on the topic giving background on how Calhoun Lofts was originally a temporary name that just happened to stick.
The University had the chance to change the temporary name to to a permanent one that wasn’t steeped in historic racism but for some reason did not.
Even a name prefaced with “cougar” like most of the other on-campus residence halls would have been preferable.
It was just bad luck that the lofts happened to be built on Calhoun Road and not Wheeler Avenue. Wheeler Lofts would have been a less controversial name.
That being the case, if the University were to change the name of Calhoun Lofts to something else in the future, it would not be as historically immoral as Yale’s case.
UH’s naming of the lofts appears to be more of a coincidence instead of a deliberate move. But it is something that, if it were to be done, should happen sooner rather than later while the residence hall is still relatively new.
Changing history for the sake of contemporary social beliefs is unwise
Times change, and society’s perception towards things does as well.
But merely because perceptions change does not mean that what happened in the past must also change with that perception.
History is unflinching. It should not be changed or rewritten no matter how ugly it is, even though at one point in the past it was OK to name a building after a slaveholder and staunch southern Dixiecrat.
But we do not rectify that by renaming a building; we do that by educating people about the person who the building was named after and why it was named after them in the first place.
History is not something that we can forget. In fact, it is something that we should always do our best to become more familiar with.
As soon as we start changing the history and names of buildings, we start down the path toward whitewashing it and imposing absolutes upon historical figures.
The best way to fight things like this is to learn and understand instead of trying to avoid it or bury it.
Yale has already decided to rename the Calhoun dorm. Hopefully the administration there will at least have a plaque on the dorm that explains the building’s history and the importance of knowing that at one point it was named after Calhoun.
Opinion editor Thomas Dwyer is a broadcast journalism sophomore and can be reached at [email protected].