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Yale students protest to change name of Calhoun College

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NEW HAVEN--A group of dozens of students and coalition members gathered on Yale's campus Friday afternoon to continue and ongoing protest to change the name of Calhoun College.

"Join us as we rally with the New Haven community to demand that Yale University change the name of Calhoun College, named after one of the nation's most ardent proponents of slavery," the "Change the Name Coalition" wrote on a Facebook page for the protest. "The name Calhoun is an affront to our community and has no place in our city. It is time that Yale honor the residents of this city by dismantling this shrine to white supremacy."

The "Change the Name Coalition" is made up of dozens of organizations that support different causes.

According to a statement from the Working Families, one of the coalition members, Yale President Peter Salovey refused to meet with the protesters, who marched to his door to present a letter demanding the change. An official said he was "at a meeting."

One speaker at the protest was Corey Menafee, who was fired, and later rehired, over the summer after he broke a stained-glass window in Calhoun College that depicted slaves in a cotton field. Yale offered to rehire him due to the "unique circumstance" of the matter; he has said he broke the window because "it's the 21st century, shouldn't have to see that." He later apologized and said he shouldn't have broken the window.

A student who lives in the college was also disturbed by that image. Yonas Takele said, “To sit in that institution to be forced to look at slaves making cotton while eating every single meal throughout my four years at this institution has been absolutely ludicrous.”

In a statement after the protest, Menafee said, "Now more than ever, the Calhoun namesake casts an ominous and dark shadow over the university. It looms over all of us, as a reminder of our dark history that keeps us rooted in the past and mentally enslaves us today. We can learn from our past better by celebrating Africans who resisted slavery instead of a man who championed it with such vigor."

Velsa Weaver, an associate professor of political science and African American studies, told FOX 61, “At this point it's ridiculous that we're even still having the conversation.”

She added, “When we're constantly exposed to things that remind black people that we are inferior we actually begin to believe that and begin to perform in adherence to those expectations.”

In June 2015, after Dylann Roof allegedly shot and killed 9 black parishioners at a Charleston church, the country began a long debate over the place of Confederate-era flags and names in modern American culture.

A month later, about 1,300 students at Yale held a rally to protest the name of Calhoun College, which houses 400 students at Yale. The college is named after former Vice President John C. Calhoun, who was also a well-known advocate for slavery. He graduated from Yale in 1804.

The students also signed a petition to have the name changed.

In August 2015, when school went back into session, President Peter Salovey and Dean Jonathan Holloway responded to the petition by beginning a discussion of the name with students, saying the discussion should include alumni, current students and school leaders.

In April 2016, the university announced it had decided to keep the college's name, saying it is meant "to teach and confront the history of slavery in the U.S." Days later another protest brought out hundreds of students.

After all the back-and-forth, in August of this year President Salovey announced in a letter to the campus that the school would reevaluate its decision to keep Calhoun College's name, and he named a new committee to review it.

“We are fortunate to have faculty members with relevant expertise that can be brought to bear on the renaming question. This new committee will draw upon their knowledge in a more systematic way,” he wrote, adding that the committee will take into account staff, alumni and student opinions on the topic as well.

He said at the time that many faculty, students and alumni have raised “significant and moving concerns” about keeping Calhoun’s name on the college. He says requests to remove the name will be reconsidered after the committee’s work is completed.

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