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Litchfield Law School’s Controversial Alumni Subject of Yale Debate
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Yale’s Calhoun College. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Summary: Yale students want Calhoun College renamed because of John C. Calhoun’s support of slavery. 

Some call Litchfield Law School the most important law school that no one’s heard of. Founded in 1784 by Tapping Reeve, Litchfield was the first American law school to offer a full legal curriculum. It was located inside of an one-room schoolhouse, and in its lifetime, the school taught 1,100 men from around the country. In 1833, the school closed and was later opened by a local historical society as a museum.


Being the first law school, Litchfield educated some of the most influential legal minds in the United States, including Aaron Burr and John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and he attended Yale undergraduate before pursuing a law degree from Litchfield.

While Calhoun’s political pedigree makes him worthy to have a building named after him, his views on slavery have caused a backlash at Yale, where a residential dormitory is named after him. In 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot up a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, students at Yale filed a petition asking to rename Calhoun College because of Calhoun’s pro-slavery and white supremacy views.

“It is deeply upsetting that it has taken a tragedy such as the shooting in Charleston to initiate the removal of symbols of white supremacy from public spaces…” the petition stated. “But public displays of the Confederate Flag throughout the South are finally in peril,” the petition states. “Multinational corporations such as Amazon, eBay, Sears, and Walmart have ceased selling merchandise featuring the flag. The Confederate flag, however, is not the only symbol of white supremacy to confront. The monumental task of eliminating the vestiges of racism must include all monuments and symbols dedicated to people and institutions that fought to preserve slavery and white supremacy.”

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Earlier this year, Yale decided to not change the college’s name because Yale President Peter Salovey said he did not want to shield the public from Yale’s historical association with slavery. However, earlier this month, a Yale panel appointed by Salovey announced that they would revisit their decision, according to The Washington Post. They stated that they would consider removing the name “only in exceptional circumstances.”

“Questions of naming and commemoration raise difficult but important discussions,” Salovey said. “These are complicated intellectual and moral issues faced by universities and other institutions around the world. From the outset, I have sought for Yale to bring its scholarly resources to bear on this subject of national and international import. My hope is that the principles announced today will prove useful not only to our community but to others as well.”

Jonathan Holloway, dean of Yale’s undergraduate college and a professor of African-American studies, served on the committee researching the Calhoun College renaming. He said that the name change was complicated and that it was important for schools to not try to erase their bad histories from future generations when addressing modern issues.

The committee Holloway served on released the following statement:

“To erase a university’s history is antithetical to the spirit of the institution. Erasing names is a matter of special concern, because those names are, in part, a catalogue of the people whom the university has thought worthy of honor. Removing such names may obscure important information about our past.

To change, however, is not always to erase. Indeed, change is indispensable in a University that has evolved over more than three hundred years. When Yale rebuilt its campus in the tradition of the medieval English colleges in the 1920s and 1930s, it did so as part of a forward-looking plan to train the leaders of the twentieth century. Five decades ago, the University began to increase the numbers of women and people of color as students, faculty, and alumni. This demographic transformation has been, and will continue to be, crucial in allowing Yale to advance the frontier of excellence in research and to train the leaders of the century to come.”

Source: The Washington Post, NBC News

Do you think Yale should change the name of Calhoun College? Let us know in the comments below.




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