The Open Letter
In November 2014, Jeania Ree Moore SY ’12 and Ivy Onyeador SY ’11 submitted an open letter asking Yale University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation to consider naming the two soon-to-be-opened residential colleges after alumni of diverse backgrounds. Over 3,300 alumni signed onto this letter. The idea for this website came out of the rich conversations generated by the letter. The letter is reprinted here with the permission of the authors.
To the Yale President’s Office and the Yale Corporation:
We, the undersigned alumni of Yale College, write regarding the naming of two new residential colleges at Yale.
Having had the distinct experience that is residential college life, we are delighted to help shape the identity of new homes for future Yale undergraduates. The communal effort to name these colleges exemplifies the spirit of the Yale we love. We appreciate the invitation of the President’s Office to participate in this process.
Residential colleges at Yale are named after people and places that are significant in Yale’s history. While the people currently honored by college names are diverse in their accomplishments, they share a sobering similarity: eight of the twelve colleges are named after white Protestant men who supported slavery as slaveholders or apologists for the institution of slavery. The architecture of Pierson College also bears a disturbing connection to slavery: until 1980, an area of the college was colloquially referred to as the “slave quarters” and the students who lived there as “slaves.” These historical and architectural associations of the residential colleges, and the demographic homogeneity of their namesakes, gesture to a larger legacy of oppression and exclusion in Yale’s history on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and class. This legacy has been well-documented in numerous sources*. It is not our intent here to recount it, but to emphasize the gravity of this moment in light of it.
The naming of new colleges is an unprecedented opportunity to remember figures in Yale’s past that diversify the history remembered in residential college names. Institutionalizing memory, residential college names claim that Yale’s past speaks to its present and future identity. Naming the new colleges after figures like Mary Goodman, Henry Roe Cloud, Edward Bouchet, or Grace Hopper would continue the tradition of naming colleges after notable figures in Yale’s past, but would do so in a way that changes the current narrative.
Mary Goodman, a formerly enslaved woman and New Haven tradesperson, provided the first gift to Yale by a person of color in 1871 when she bequeathed her property to establish a scholarship supporting African American divinity students. The effects of Goodman’s beneficence extend into this century, with recent students benefitting from her generosity.
A 1910 graduate of Yale College and a member of the Winnebago Nation of Nebraska, Henry Roe Cloud was Yale’s first Native American graduate and was a national leader in American Indian federal policy reform and higher education.
Graduating from Yale in 1876 with a PhD in physics as Yale’s first self-identified African American graduate, Edward Bouchet was the first African American to earn a PhD in the U.S. and subsequently developed a career as a dedicated educator.
A pioneer in computer science, Grace Hopper graduated from Yale in 1934 with a PhD in mathematics. She became a computer programmer and U.S. Navy rear admiral whose outstanding achievements earned her numerous military and academic accolades.
Goodman, Roe Cloud, Bouchet, and Hopper are just four of the many benefactors and esteemed alumni who diversify Yale’s history, and we urge you to consider options like these as you move forward in your selection of college names. We urge you to consider the narrative currently enshrined by college names, and the opportunity you have to change it. We urge you to recognize the diversity of figures who stood on the other side of a legacy of oppression and exclusion by virtue of their social status, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, and yet are a cherished part of Yale’s history. We call for more diversity in the names of the residential colleges of Yale University.
Such naming would publicly and perpetually celebrate, honor, and recognize a broader array of figures that reflect Yale’s identity as an institution and community. Yale’s respect for difference, as a tenet of intellectual freedom and human dignity, would come to life in the selection of residential college names honoring diverse figures in Yale’s past.
Yale’s past, present, and future contains a breadth of truly remarkable people, and we urge the committee deciding on the new college names to claim that diversity.
NOTE: The list of examples in this letter is not meant to be exhaustive, but to gesture toward a broader group of diverse esteemed Yale figures. This group includes Yale figures who are Asian, Latino/a, LGBTQ, religious minorities, or of other backgrounds and identities not represented in the examples provided.
As of 1:42 p.m. PST on January 29, 2015, there were over 3,300 signatories. Signatories include Yale College alumni, Yale professional and graduate school alumni, and current students. Some of the signatories are listed below.