An Open Letter on the Calhoun College Decision

Dear President Salovey,

Have you ever reflected on how it might feel to go to school and be assigned to a residential college named for Joseph Goebbels? Would it be easy to ignore, or do you think it would rankle and weigh on you every single day? Would you be comforted by administration assurances that the naming “helps us to grapple with our past,” while most of your peers continued to say, “What’s the big deal about Goebbels anyway–get over it–it’s our tradition”?

The Calhoun College decision is monstrously unthinking in its dismissal of student of color perspectives; and the inspired naming of Pauli Murray College will never undo that injury.  Please, if it’s the only way in for you, as a thought experiment, think closely about that injury from the vantage point of a student in “Goebbels College.”

A more certain way of “grappling with the past” than continuing to honor John C. Calhoun would be to build up a curriculum and a set of requirements that outfitted students, in the face of tortured history and other people’s injury, to do better than to simply say “what’s the big deal; get over it.”  Your faculty is ready for this work, but we need more allies and we need your full support.  If history is to be reckoned with rigorously and is not to be whitewashed, as you insist in your recent statements, then now–right now–is the time for a university-wide ethnic studies requirement.  It is our responsibility to make sure that we provide ALL students the tools needed for this reckoning; such rigor cannot be the burden of the injured alone.


Matthew Frye Jacobson
William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History, Professor of African American Studies, Director of Ethnicity, Race & Migration


Leave a comment