Yale dedicates renamed college to pioneering woman
Published 9:33 pm, Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Photo: Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media
NEW HAVEN >> Julia Adams, head of the newly named Grace Hopper College, looked out on a gathering of Yale students, faculty and Navy personnel Tuesday and said, “People ask: ‘Do names matter?’ They matter a great deal.”
Adams noted, “We honor those whose names are associated with this beautiful building.”
Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Adams alluded to the years of struggle by Yale students at that residential college and others students to have it no longer named for John C. Calhoun, a Southern senator and U.S. vice-president who called slavery a “positive good.” Adams said the culmination of talk and argument resulted in “this excellent outcome.”
The university community, especially students at Hopper College, have embraced naming it for a computer pioneer and U.S. Navy officer who earned a master’s degree and doctorate at Yale in the 1930s, when women were discouraged from entering that field.
Sally Weiner, head aide for Hopper College and a Yale senior, recalled, “The day of the name change (that announcement last February), there was dancing and music in here!”
Weiner added, “The issue of the name has been very personal for lots of students. We were excited to see the administration support us.”
But amid the joy of Tuesday’s ceremony, Weiner recalled, “There was a not-so-happy day. It was really bad for morale.”
She was referring to the announcement in April 2016 by Yale President Peter Salovey, after consulting with the Yale Corporation, the university’s governing body, that the Calhoun name would remain. He said “we shouldn’t be hiding our past.”
But amid increased student protest, Salovey formed a committee to study the issue. In February, abiding by the committee’s recommendation, he said the Calhoun name would be changed because his values were “at odds” with those of Yale.
After that, university workers removed a series of ornamental windows, including one that depicted an enslaved person in chains kneeling beside Calhoun.
Salovey, who had a prominent role in Tuesday’s dedication ceremony, did not dwell on the past controversy. In his speech he quoted Hopper: “I’ve always been more interested in the future than the past.”
Salovey said, “Today we look to the future of Hopper College. The students of today one day, like Grace Hopper, will change the world.”
Salovey noted Hopper, “propelled by an insatiable curiosity,” was a trailblazer in computer advancement. Because of her work in computer programming, software development and programming languages, “she changed the way we understand and use computers.”
But Salovey noted Hopper often had to prove women could do such work, and be pioneers. “She made it possible for ordinary people to use computers, not just mathematicians and engineers.”
He said Hopper, who taught at many universities, “taught us to embrace change. She encouraged her young colleagues to take risks.”
Admiral John M. Richardson, chief of Naval Operations, told the crowd that after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II, Hopper wanted to enlist in the Navy. But her application was denied because she was 15 pounds beneath the minimum weight requirement.
Richardson noted Hopper earned the nickname “amazing Grace.”
“‘Amazing Grace’ was not going to be denied,” he said. Her request for a waiver was accepted and she embraked on a 43-year Navy career.
Yale officials had also invited Hopper’s nephew, Roger Murray III, to speak. He remembered his aunt as “a very dedicated individual. Once she had a goal, she would pursue it and reach that goal.”
He recalled she sent the family many postcards from various locales, always signing them: “Hastily, Grace.”
Murray also said she didn’t like being told: “We’ve always done it this way.” He remembered her saying: “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it.”
Yale University Chaplain Sharon Kugler called the college’s re-naming “a rebirth of sorts. She would be beaming with pride and joy to see all of you standing here.” Hopper died in 1992.
Adams said she has noticed “a new and vibrant feeling emerging in this college. We feel renewed.”
The ceremony ended with the Navy Band Northeast’s Brass Quintet playing “Anchors Away.”
Call Randall Beach at 203-680-9345.