Over the weekend, Yale President Peter Salovey announced that the university will give Calhoun College, dedicated to the white supremacist and fervent slavery supporter John Calhoun, a new name: Hopper College, after the renowned computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper.
In the fall of 2015, Yale and other universities came under significant pressure to do what Yale has done this week: erase (or at least minimize) the legacies on campus of overtly racist figures. Back then, Yale, Princeton, and others refused to concede to most student and faculty demands. In a statement he made last April, Salovey said it was Yale’s “obligation” to retain Calhoun College’s original name, as it allowed students to confront the legacy of slavery.
So what changed?
Over the course of his campaign, Donald Trump disparaged political correctness. He mocked students’ demands for safe spaces and trigger warnings. In this way, when they decided against changing the names of certain campus buildings and landmarks, administrators at places like Yale and Princeton arguably sided with him.
Then Trump won the election. Since November, colleges and universities have been jockeying to issue resounding statements against Trump and safeguard their reputations as progressive institutions. Even though Yale officials say the renaming decision had nothing to do with the election, it’s undeniable that universities are navigating an entirely new set of circumstances now that President Obama is no longer in office—and now that Trump has brought race to the fore not only for minority students, but for white students as well. Under those new circumstances, Yale seems to have decided that the task of expunging Calhoun’s name from campus is more urgent than it was just 10 months ago.