Grace Hopper’s face on Hopper’s windows is a refreshing sight compared to the baleful glares emanating from the murals in other dining halls. I stride out of the annex room and catch sight of the hummingbird and the robin in flight—one in restless glee with Hopper’s banner and the other snatching away John Calhoun’s banner. Goosebumps appear up and down my arms. I smile.
Yale’s decision to install new window panes that depict pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper represents a departure from Yale’s shameful history of venerating slave owners. By all accounts, this is long overdue. A member of the dining hall staff should not have to break a glass pane depicting an enslaved person on a cotton field for Yale to take action. That being said, the new installations are a major success.
Yale chose two Black women, Faith Ringgold and Barbara Thomas, to design the windows. One of Thomas’s panels, “Broken is Mended,” depicts two hands clasped together and a rift between illustrated windows, symbolized by jagged lines. Thomas recalls how the shattered glass inspired her panel, signifying the tragedies of the past and the community’s decision to move forward and rewrite history on better terms. One that also caught my eye was a panel featuring a Black man, free of his chains, holding a book close to his chest with the words “Art,” “Science,” “History Past,” and “History Present” above his head.
These pieces are markers of history, a result of years and years of protest by students, staff and New Haven community members. The art itself is an emblem of change—one that portrays Yale’s interrogation of its glorified racism in partnership with Black artists.
However, Yale does not deserve the credit for the creative linkages between past and present that these artists have established. I applaud Yale for inviting these women to design the panels and for including students and dining hall staff members in a participatory creative process, inviting them to provide input on the new designs. What I see in the art, then, is a reflection of community outreach without the obstacles typically imposed on such a process by an administrative body. What I don’t see, though, is a clear stance from Yale on other problematic art pieces.
On the Cross Campus gate to Hopper, you can easily spot the name “Calhoun.” Emblazoned atop the G entryway gate, you’ll find Calhoun’s face staring at you (albeit in disappointment for not inheriting his white supremacist beliefs). Regarding such matters, President Peter Salovey has stipulated that the University has an “obligation not to efface history.” Hopper Head of College Julia Adams has argued that by erasing these traces, we would “lose the records of those decades of contestation and struggle over the name, and why it mattered.”
To these people I ask: how can the face of a man who has argued that slavery is a “positive good” be a record of “contestation and struggle”? Art that glorifies our oppressors does not represent rebellion. These works are a continuation of dismissal—dismissal of a history made manifest by the continued presence of these monuments to atrocity. As long as these figureheads exist, it is difficult to feel respected on this campus, to believe that this is a place where disenfranchised people belong.
No, when Yale offers a platform to artists such as Thomas and Ringgold, and we see their thoughts blooming—that shows struggle. The artists rigorously engage every aspect of this troubled history. They turn these windows into documents of transformation, into the records that deserve to be preserved. But Calhoun can and should be erased fully from Yale’s grounds.