Clemson University will remove the name of John C. Calhoun, a pro-slavery political leader and a former U.S. vice president, from its Honors College, in a move consistent with a nationwide outcry against racism since the death of George Floyd due to police brutality.
Calhoun Honors College, named so since 1982, will now be called Clemson University Honors College.
The university’s board will also request the South Carolina state legislature change the name of Tillman Hall to its old name, which is Main Building. Benjamin R. Tillman was governor of South Carolina (1890–94) and championed White supremacy. However, because of the state’s Heritage Act, changing the name of Tillman Hall will require a two-thirds vote from both chambers of the state legislature, said the Associated Press. Lawmakers have resisted such changes to Confederate monuments.
As for the decision to remove Calhoun’s name, it comes days after former Clemson football stars DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson threw their weight behind a petition from students, alumni, faculty and staff to rename the college.
“Clemson University still honors the name of slave owner John C. Calhoun on its buildings, signs, and in the name of its honors program,” tweeted Hopkins this week, adding that he’s “joining the voices of the students and faculty” who started the renaming petition. Watson followed with a similar tweet. Hopkins also said on social media that he doesn’t mention his college’s name before National Football League games because he “felt this oppressive figure” of Calhoun’s clouded his experience at Clemson.
In its statement, Clemson didn’t mention Floyd or the anti-racist protests that have rocked the nation since his death on May 25. The university said the renaming and other recommendations were made by a task force set up in 2018 to suggest “ways to enhance the quality and relevance of the honors college.”
Clemson did say, though, that the university’s history is associated with people whose ideas are antithetical to those of the institution.
“Clemson University has a long-celebrated history of tradition and excellence, but we must recognize there are central figures in Clemson’s history whose ideals, beliefs and actions do not represent the university’s core values of respect and diversity,” said Smyth McKissick, chairman of the university’s board of trustees.
Clemson University president Jim Clements said the renaming is intended to send a message about diversity.
“Our Trustees’ leadership today sends a clear message that Clemson University intends to be a place where all our students, employees and guests feel welcome,” Clements said. “Our work in this area is far from finished, but we are committed to building on the progress we have made in the areas of diversity and inclusivity as we strive to serve our entire state and the nation.”
Earlier this week, historically Black Alabama State University said it is beginning the process of removing the names of people associated with racist organizations, policies or political activity from campus buildings.
Another college in Alabama, the University of Alabama, on Monday announced it is removing three Confederate memorial plaques from the college campus. The decision came a day after the Student Government Association at the university said it is talking with college “officials to begin the work of changing the names of campus buildings with racist namesakes.”
Meanwhile, at Texas A&M University, students and alumni are divided over the place of a statue on campus of Sul Ross, a Confederate General who is also a former president of the university.