- Princeton University’s Board of Trustees voted Saturday to remove former President Woodrow Wilson’s namesake from its school of public policy and a residential building, citing his “racist thinking and policies.”
- The decision to change the names of the buildings came amid a nationwide reckoning with racism in the US sparked by the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks.
- “Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement. “That, however, is ultimately the problem.”
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Princeton University announced Saturday that it will remove former President Woodrow Wilson’s name from a college and residential building due to his “racist thinking and policies.”
The decision to remove Wilson’s namesake came in light of the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, and the nationwide reckoning with racism in the US, the university said in a statement.
“Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement.
“That, however, is ultimately the problem,” he continued. “Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people.”
The university’s Board of Trustees voted Saturday to remove Wilson’s name from its School of Public and International Affairs, deeming his namesake “inappropriate” for “a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combatting the scourge of racism in all its forms.”
“Identifying a political leader as the namesake for a public policy school inevitably suggests that the honoree is a role model for those who study in the school,” the university said in a statement. “We must therefore ask whether it is acceptable for this University’s school of public affairs to bear the name of a racist who segregated the nation’s civil service after it had been integrated for decades.”
Cecilia Elena Rouse, Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs, said in a statement that she “unequivocally” supported the decision.
“Retiring the name does not take the place of systemic change, but it does signal that we are prepared to do the hard work of confronting racism and other injustices,” Rouse said. “We have much more to do, and I know all of you stand ready to contribute your time, thoughtfulness, and passion to that effort.”
The Princeton Board of Trustees also voted to remove Wilson’s namesake from its residential college previously known as Wilson College.
Eisgruber said Princeton planned on closing Wilson College and retiring its name after the construction of two new residential buildings, but the university decided to accelerate the retirement of Wilson’s name from the college, which will now be named First College.
Eisgruber went on to describe Wilson’s racism as “significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time.”
“He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice,” Eisgruber said. “He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.”
But Eisgruber said he recognized that “these conclusions may seem harsh to some,” given the fact that “Wilson remade Princeton, converting it from a sleepy college into a great research university.”
He added that “many of the virtues that distinguish Princeton today—including its research excellence and its preceptorial system—were in significant part the result of Wilson’s leadership.”
“People will differ about how to weigh Wilson’s achievements and failures,” he continued. “Part of our responsibility as a University is to preserve Wilson’s record in all of its considerable complexity.”
Princeton will continue to honor Wilson through the Woodrow Wilson Award, which is the “highest honor” for an undergraduate alumnus or alumna awarded as a result of a gift to the university.
“The University will continue to recognize extraordinary public service by conferring the award as currently named,” the university said, as “the award explicitly honors specific and positive aspects of Wilson’s career.”
Princeton students initially protested Wilson’s namesake in university buildings back in 2015, prompting the university to form the Wilson Legacy Review Committee.
While the committee had recommended a number of reforms to be more transparent about Wilson’s historical record and legacy at the college, the name of the public policy school and residential college remained the same.
“Princeton must openly and candidly recognize that Wilson, like other historical figures, leaves behind a complex legacy of both positive and negative repercussions,” the committee said in a statement at the time, “and that the use of his name implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.”