The honors college was named for John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician who served as vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832 and was an outspoken advocate of slavery, saying it was "a positive good." It will now be known as the Clemson University Honors College. The change was voted on during a special meeting.
Since George Floyd's death last month while in police custody in Minneapolis, protests around the country have addressed not only police reform but also racial and social injustice.
Watson and Hopkins, who played at Clemson together, took to social media to share a link to a petition that demands that Clemson "remove John C. Calhoun's name from one of our most distinguished academic programs."
Nearly 20,000 people signed the petition.
"Board members have felt and feel that it is important to address this matter now rather than wait until July due to the recent events happening across our country," Clemson board of trustees chairman E. Smyth McKissick said Friday. "No one can watch what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and not be outraged. That terrible death and other incidents across our country reinforced that we all still have work to do, and that includes Clemson."
Watson and Hopkins both returned to social media on Friday to post their thanks to Clemson for making the name change.
I would like to thank the Board of Trustees & everyone else involved for listening to the concerns of the current & former student body & implementing changes that will create a more welcoming environment for the entire tiger community. #ClemsonUniversityHonorsCollege— Deshaun Watson (@deshaunwatson) June 13, 2020
"Clemson was a family choice for me because I wanted to support my mother and siblings who lived close and I've had family attend the university," Hopkins wrote on Instagram. "Today, Clemson has never felt more like family. I know there is still much great work to do on campus and beyond, but I believe it is important to recognize progress when it happens and that we all, whether you're a current student or alum with a platform, have power. Racial, economic, criminal, social and all justice is created one step at a time -- I'm grateful for this step. Let's keep fighting."
Clemson's board of trustees also asked the South Carolina legislature to allow the university to rename another building on campus, Tillman Hall, named for Benjamin "Pitchfork" Tillman, a former governor and white supremacist who led an all-white militia after the Civil War in the lynching of black people.
Tillman Hall is subject to a state law called the Heritage Act, passed in 2000. The law requires a two-thirds vote of the general assembly to change any historical monument or building.
Clemson president Jim Clements said he backed the board, weighing in Friday on social media.
"Our Board made a powerful statement for inclusiveness today by authorizing a change to our Honors College name and recommending the same for Tillman Hall," Clements tweeted. "These actions are consistent with our values. This is a proud day for Clemson."
Clemson's athletic department also released a statement supporting Friday's moves by the board.
"We all stand for justice and equality and support these steps to make Clemson a more inclusive community," the athletic department said.