Rename the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University

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As students, alumni, faculty, staff, friends, and fans of Clemson University and the Calhoun Honors College, we demand that the University — without further delays or excuses — remove John C. Calhoun’s name from one of our most distinguished academic programs. Calhoun, who on the floor of the U.S. Senate advocated for the expansion of slavery as a “positive good,” exemplifies institutional racism and white supremacy.

Clemson’s Honors College was founded in 1962, but Calhoun’s name was not added until 1981. To change the name of the college, therefore, is not to “erase history”; rather, it is to acknowledge that our understanding of history has evolved. To maintain the name, on the other hand, is to convey Clemson University’s continued indifference toward a history of institutional racism and state-sanctioned violence against Black life. South Carolina’s Heritage Act says nothing about the names of academic programs. It was a choice to rename the Honors College in 1981, and it remains a choice now.

Clemson University President James P. Clements recently stated that Clemson will not tolerate racism “in any form”: “We can, and must, do better if we are to build a truly inclusive Clemson community.” However, the name of the Calhoun Honors College itself represents deeply entrenched structures of racism. Clemson is a predominantly white institution built by slave labor on a former plantation where, even today, Black students constitute only 1-2% of the honors population. Calhoun Honors College Director William Lasser recently wrote that words are “meaningless without actions.” The time for action is overdue. We must do better.

Dr. Lasser, Provost Jones, and President Clements, do not hide from the implications of your words. We need you to stand up to the Board of Trustees, who time after time has demonstrated it prefers to hide from the issue rather than to face it. The Board seeks to preserve a Clemson of the past that no longer represents the stronger Clemson of the future we strive to realize. It can be done. Consider the cases of Yale, UVA, and Furman, as well as other universities across the world. John C. Calhoun’s name on our Honors Program is a persistent obstacle to enhancing Clemson’s diversity and to increasing its excellence. We demand a more just Clemson. Change the name. Do it now.

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