Honors College Releases Survey, Dump Calhoun? – Alexander Cullen

The Calhoun Honors College hosted a public event this last Monday, April the 24th, with the topic of discussion being, “Considering Calhoun: An Open Conversation.” The event invited members of the community to come for a “candid” discussion regarding the history revolving around Calhoun and likely reconsideration for naming of the Honors College in his namesake. However, only four days later an interesting survey was released. The survey was developed by several students out of a desire to understand the perspective of Honor College students according to Dr. Lasser, Executive Director of the Honor’s College.

Anyone who’s familiar with Clemson University’s History, or American History for the matter, should find the name Calhoun familiar. During his life he served as a Congressman representing South Carolina, the Secretary of War, the Secretary of State, and even Vice President which establishes him as one of the United State’s most accomplished statesmen in a strict sense of the term. In political theory he developed in to a strong states right’s advocate. While this is often attached to his interest in preserving slavery in the south, his intentions additionally reflected concern for economic prosperity in the south, which had been negatively impacted by Federal policy in the form of tariffs.

Calhoun advocated for the rights of political minorities by supporting a doctrine of self-governance, but he failed to expand this to the very human beings he owned as property. We can hardly refer to an individual who owned other people and utilized their labor as man righteous or even good values. For this reason there is merit to consideration of naming anything after the former slavery proponent; and earlier this year even, Yale made the decision to rename a building on their own campus due to having been named after Calhoun.

It was after this “Candid Conversation” that a survey was then sent out to Clemson Honors College Students probing as to whether they believed the name “Calhoun Honors College” was conducive to the mission of the Honors College, and whether or not students would like to see the name changed. I’m myself am hesitant to claim that Calhoun is our optimal role model, but the survey perceptibly had  intentions of persuading students to vote in the nay. In what have might have been a leading question, the survey asks, “John C. Calhoun: Yale Law School, Senator, VP, Secretary of State, owned Fort Hill Plantation (slave holder), said that slavery was a “positive good,” and supported the Nullification Doctrine (Secessionist). Do you think that this background is representative of the values of the Honors College?

John C Calhoun’s legacy is far from a candid conversation, but the reality is that most who advocate for the removal or retaining of his name for the Honors College refuse to have an honest conversation. While his name is explicitly tied to the institution of slavery, the political ideology he defended would today include movements away from police militarization, loosing of Federal drug and crime policies, and greater representation for everyday individuals through their local governments rather than Federal Government. Changes that, despite being connected to Calhoun, I think many Americans would find themselves sympathetic to on both the left and the right. These may not all be values members of our society hold today, but many respected political movements do hold them.

Furthermore, John C Calhoun’s name doesn’t need to be removed from the Honors College to signal that slavery was abhorrent. Teaching the reality of history, that John C. Calhoun didn’t believe in human rights, is better facilitated through education rather than Clemson sweeping their connection to the politician under the rug. Unless we acknowledge our deep and fundamental connection of our institution to the man who owned the land we walk less than two hundred years ago, we’ll never understand Clemson University to the capacity that we should. To sever our legacy from Calhoun, in both the good and the terrible, is akin to sever the connection of this university to the institution of slavery, The Civil War, and American Political History.

I don’t know that this entails keeping the name for the Honors College, or casting it aside to make Clemson University “good for marketing in 2017.” But so long as we circumnavigate the real conversation about Calhoun, we’ve avoided a real conversation about this University.





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