New Hopper College windows acknowledge past, celebrate present

Twelve new decorative windows installed today in Grace Hopper College, the Yale residential college previously known as Calhoun College, celebrate the richness of the college’s community and contemplate the complex history behind its name.

The windows, which will be unveiled during an open house on Sept. 12, replace panes that had commemorated the life of John C. Calhoun 1804 BA, 1822 LL.D, an influential champion of slavery for whom the college was originally named, and paid homage to an antebellum southern society that was built on the backs of enslaved people. The removed windows are now housed at the Yale University Library’s Manuscripts & Archives Department, where they are available for research.

Artist Faith Ringgold designed the six new windows installed in the college’s common room, which depict the full range of student life from academics to extracurricular activities. Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas designed six new windows in the dining hall, which illustrate key transitions in the college’s history, honor the people who work in the dining hall, and represent the joyful music and community spirit that brighten the undergraduate experience at Yale .

These new windows are a wonderful gift to the students and staff of Hopper College and the entire Yale community,” said President Peter Salovey. “They honor the strong sense of community that helps us to grow and flourish together.

A hummingbird brings forward Grace Murray Hopper while a robin takes away John C. Calhoun in this rendering of a new window in the Hopper College dining hall designed by Barbara Earl Thomas.

I extend my gratitude to Faith Ringgold and Barbara Earl Thomas for their elegant, thoughtful designs and to the faculty and students who guided the project from start to finish.”

In addition to the windows, Thomas also designed metalwork and glass portraits of Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher, and rear admiral in the US Navy, and Roosevelt L. Thompson, ’84 BA, an African American former resident of the college and a Rhodes Scholar who died in a car accident during his senior year, that will occupy two stone niches flanking the dining hall’s last bay of windows. These works will be installed later this fall.

The residential college, which opened in 1933, was originally named after Calhoun, who had served the country as vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war, and prominent US senator. His advocacy for slavery and white supremacy, however, long made him a subject of controversy on campus.

In 2016, Salovey established a panel, the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming to ensure that any decision about the college’s name was grounded in scholarship and on a set of guiding principles. Once the committee completed its work, an ad-hoc advisory group, composed of an alumnus of the college and two distinguished faculty members, applied its principles to the college’s name and determined that none weighed heavily against renaming.

In 2017, Salovey and the Yale Corporation renamed the college after Hopper ’30 MA ’34 Ph.D., one of the Yale’s most distinguished graduates whose pioneering work as a software programmer helped make computers more accessible to a wider range of users and vastly expanded their applications, concluding that Calhoun’s fierce advocacy of slavery and white supremacy form his principal legacy.

That spring, the newly formed Hopper College Window Commission Committee was charged with recommending an artist or artists to create new windows for the common room and dining hall. The committee was chaired by Anoka Faruqee, associate dean of the Yale School of Art, and included undergraduates from the college.

The new windows

Ringgold, who has worked in a variety of media — including painting, quilting, performance art, and sculpture — over an artistic career spanning more than 50 years, focused her designs on capturing the full range of student life.

The panes she designed show students reading in a library, playing pickup basketball, working a pottery wheel, painting a canvas, and gathered at a table for a meal. One of the panels features Hopper, standing in front of a blackboard, which bears lines of computer code written in chalk along with the acronym COBOL, a computer-programming language for business use that she was instrumental in developing. (Hopper, a lifelong teacher, taught math on the faculty at Vassar College for 13 years.)

Personally, I love the delightful playfulness of Faith Ringgold’s allusions to everyday student life in the college, in a way that could span decades, and her figuring Grace Hopper as a teacher in addition to her many other roles,” said Julia Adams, the head of Hopper College and a member of the advisory committee. “This is perfect for our common room, which is a hub of college life.”

Thomas, a widely exhibited artist who has shared her work publicly since the 1980s, had the task of integrating her designs into the dining hall’s existing Currier & Ives windows, which depict the flora and fauna of the American South.

One of the windows symbolizes the college’s name change by depicting a hummingbird moving a banner bearing Hopper’s name into the foreground while a robin carries a Calhoun banner into the background. Another shows a young Black man, who has broken free from chains, clutching a book to his chest underneath the words “Art,” “Science,” “History Past,” and “History Present.” A third commemorating the 1969 coeducation of Yale College depicts women students outside the residential college.

After she accepted the commission, Thomas twice met with Hopper College students via Zoom to discuss possible concepts for the remaining windows. Members of the dining hall staff interested in participating were invited to share their input during a separate Zoom meeting with Thomas.

The students were very vocal about the importance of the staff to their lives as residents of the college,” Thomas said. “I’m so glad we had the opportunity to include the staff members in the conversation.”

Those conversations contributed to the final three designs. One depicts staff members standing in the dining hall beneath the text, “Kitchen to Table,” an homage to the people who labor to provide the meals the students enjoy. Another design features students making music, singing and playing a tuba and other instruments.

That concept was drawn from my experience visiting Yale,” said Thomas, who visited the campus in 2019 while seeking the commission. “I was sleeping in the college and had the windows open. I could hear people singing on the quad. It seemed like a lovely aspect of Yale life.”

“Broken is Mended,” a new window in Hopper College's dining hall designed by Barbara Earl Thomas
“Broken is Mended,” a new window in Hopper College’s dining hall designed by Barbara Earl Thomas, acknowledges both past divisions and the subsequent healing that has allowed the campus community to move forward.

While on campus, Thomas was a guest at a College Tea where she spoke with students and college fellows about her art. During the visit, she also viewed the shards of the window that had been broken, which were now on display as part of an exhibition on American glass at the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG). In June 2016, an employee working in the college used a broomstick to knock out a dining hall window that depicted enslaved people working in a cotton field. Six windows in the dining hall’s central bay and the six in the common room were soon replaced with amber-tinted temporary panes. Thomas’s experience seeing the shards inspired the sixth design, which depicts the dining hall’s window bays separated by a jagged slash. The words “Broken is Mended” appear in the rift with a pair of hands clasped at the forefingers running along the panel’s bottom.

We’re not denying that there has been a fissure or a wound,” she said. “We’re also not going to linger on the wound as a way of life. We know it’s there and we can go back and examine it, but we have made our peace in a way that allows us to move forward with the knowledge that we’re all implicated in the wound and we’re all implicated in how it is mended.”

The complex path we have taken’

Thomas will discuss her designs and artistic practice on Sept. 12 with Kymberly Pinder, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean of the Yale School of Art, during an event at YUAG following the open house.

Thomas’ work elegantly navigates some difficult history while also capturing the college’s tightknit community, Adams said.

Barbara Earl Thomas’ windows manage the impossible, among other things capturing the richness of some of the college’s, and the university’s, major transitions, including the Calhoun-to-Hopper name change and the historic advent of women undergraduates at Yale,” she said “Celebration and conflict both appear, helping us remember the complex path that we have taken as we look towards the future.”

Once installed, the metalwork portraits of Hopper and Thompson, which are currently being fabricated, will face each other, placing the two figures — a world-renowned computer scientist, mathematician, teacher, and naval officer, and a bright young man with boundless potential whose life ended tragically — in conversation, Faruqee said.

The niches are a new contribution to the space,” she said. “Unlike the windows, they are situated at eye level. They’ll be backlit and will blend in aesthetically with the windows. I love how they’ll sit in the bay’s architecture.

Having these two people, who likely never met, existing together in the space provides a subtle artistic gesture toward acknowledgment and mutual respect that encapsulates much of Barbara’s vision.”

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