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Opinion Yale doesn’t need Calhoun College. It needs a real slavery memorial.

A student walks by a college notice board on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., on Nov. 12, 2015. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Last week, Yale University President Peter Salovey announced that, after much protest and deliberation, the school will not rename a residential college named after John C. Calhoun, an ardent defender of slavery and one of the intellectual architects of secession. Salovey’s message to the Yale community on Calhoun College and a host of related issues was admirable both for his candor — he acknowledged that a new residential college will be named for Benjamin Franklin because that’s what the donor, Charles B. Johnson, wanted — and for Salovey’s commitment to addressing the role of slavery in Yale’s past.

But I couldn’t help but feel that if Salovey wanted the university community to engage more deeply with slavery, racism and Yale, he missed an obvious, and more artful, way to make remembrance and reconciliation a permanent part of the Yale landscape.

“Erasing Calhoun’s name from a much-beloved residential college risks masking this past, downplaying the lasting effects of slavery, and substituting a false and misleading narrative, albeit one that might allow us to feel complacent or, even, self-congratulatory,” Salovey wrote in his letter to Yale alumni. “Retaining the name forces us to learn anew and confront one of the most disturbing aspects of Yale’s and our nation’s past. I believe this is our obligation as an educational institution.”

And to add fuller context to Calhoun’s continued presence, Salovey announced plans for a historical project with an online component, and an art competition intended to produce a work that will “respond to the realities and consequences of Calhoun’s life” and hang in the college.

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That last plan points to an option Yale might have chosen instead of keeping Calhoun’s name on the college. What Yale really needs is not Calhoun College, but a slavery monument, perhaps one located across from Maya Lin’s Women’s Table, one of the most significant pieces of public art on campus.

Such a monument would allow Yale to make clear that the history of slavery and Yale isn’t only limited to John C. Calhoun. In 1758, Jonathan Trumbull, who would become governor of Connecticut and gave his name to Trumbull College, ordered three slaves to be whipped for being outside after 9 p.m. without their masters’ permission; Trumbull, who was then serving in Connecticut’s General Assembly, was acting to enforce the colony’s “black codes,” which placed extraordinary restrictions on slaves’ physical and social mobility.

Samuel F.B. Morse, for whom Morse College is named, argued that the “servile relation,” in which “the Master is superior, and the Slave the inferior,” was part of God’s “Divine plan adapted to man as a fallen being, in his disciplinary state,” and that to tamper with it would bring about societal ruin.

“Have those who pronounce Slavery to be sin actually considered the fearful responsibility they incur by the utterance of such a reckless, and, we will say, such a sacrilegious dogma?” he thundered in an 1863 treatise on the subject.”Will the advocates of this dogma tell us on what principle they endeavor to sustain the validity of Civil Government, the Matrimonial Relation, and the Parental Relation, as ordinances of God?”

Benjamin Silliman, the chemist whose name is engraved over the gates of my residential college, paid for at least some of his Yale tuition with the proceeds from the sale of his mother’s slaves. And though he became an advocate for abolition, embracing the American Colonization Society’s idea that freed slaves should have the option to be repatriated to Africa, he and his brother continued to own slaves whom they indentured to other people. He was hardly the only person whose name is on a Yale residential college to have preached one thing and practiced another.

Whatever the results of Salovey’s history project and art competition, allowing Calhoun to stand in for all the other men at Yale who profited from or advocated for slavery in any fashion actually simplifies Yale’s legacy rather than fully illuminating it. Other schools are tackling these challenges in their own way: last fall, Georgetown University changed the names of two buildings rather than continue to honor past presidents of the college who sold slaves and used the profits to eliminate the school’s debt, and scholars there are trying to figure out meaningful ways to honor those slaves and to make recompense to their descendants. A Yale memorial that tries to capture the broader complicity among the college’s founding fathers would better serve Salovey’s hopes that the university he leads can “learn anew and confront one of the most disturbing aspects of Yale’s and our nation’s past.”

A monument, rather than a college, would solve an additional problem with keeping Calhoun’s name on a residential college. Nobody has to live in a memorial. And lots of people will have to see it.

The debate about whether college students are too sensitive will never really be solved to anyone’s satisfaction. But I’m sympathetic to the idea that it’s unpleasant to have to live in a building named for someone who not only didn’t think someone like you belonged at Yale, but that you were a human being deserving of any rights at all, no matter how much stained glass gets edited so you don’t have to look at Calhoun with a slave at his feet in your own home.

And while there are plenty of visual references to the man himself on the exteriors of Calhoun College, none of them are as stark or disruptive as an actual memorial would be.

I mentioned the Women’s Table earlier, and it’s an instructive example for what a slavery memorial at Yale might look like, and the purpose it serves in the Yale community. Unveiled in 1993, Lin’s sleek fountain has a spiral of numbers emerging from the wellspring at the center of its large oval; they begin as zeroes, but as women began to be able to register as students at Yale’s various schools, the numbers begin to climb. The granite blocks that form the Women’s Table are in sharp contrast with the architecture of Sterling Library and Berkeley College, which stand nearby.

But despite those visual differences, and perhaps because of them, the Women’s Table has come to play multiple roles in the Yale community. It’s a stop and a convenient platform for tour guides, a nice place to study on a sunny day and a valuable site for protest. In fact, when Jonathan Holloway, Yale College’s first black dean, attended a protest last fall to hear about students’ experiences of the racial climate on campus, he ended up addressing the young people in his charge from atop the Women’s Table.

It’s past time that there was a similar memorial of Yale’s failings on race, and a place to gather in support of its better future.