By J.G. Noll
Yale University is changing the name of Calhoun College residence hall to Hopper College effective next July to honor Grace “Amazing Grace” Murray Hopper, a Naval Rear Admiral and one of the original visionaries of computer science.
The battle over Calhoun’s name on Yale’s campus has been a long one. Students have long held that the multiple references to John C. Calhoun, a Yale alumnus best known for his racist politics and ardent defense of slavery, on Yale’s campus were not befitting of the institution.
Calhoun was a South Carolinian Representative and Senator, the seventh US Vice President, a Secretary of State, and a Secretary of War. He referred to the institution of slavery as a “positive good” and his philosophies on race relations greatly influenced the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case, which stated that slaves’ descendants were not citizens of the United States and that slavery could not be federally regulated in federal territories.
In 1992, a student petitioned the university for the removal of a stained glass window which depicted a slave kneeling at Calhoun’s feet. After the Charleston church shooting, students organized to demand Yale change the name. Despite pressure on the administration, they affirmed that they would keep Calhoun’s name on the college. In July 2016, a dining hall worker destroyed a stained glass window. The window depicted slaves picking cotton.
Hopper received her PhD. in mathematics from Yale and worked on the Mark I computer at Harvard. She invented the compiler that allowed programming languages to be written with words instead of math and then translated the words into lower-level machine languages so that computers could execute the commands. During WWII, she served in WAVES. She was a technical consultant during the development of COBOL, a computer language. The use of “bug” as a reference to a programming error can also be traced back to her. Hopper also has a supercomputer and guided-missile destroyer named after her.