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Princeton’s Board of Trustees has voted to remove President Woodrow Wilson’s name from the university’s School of Public and International Affairs because of “racist views and policies,” reversing a decision four years ago to let it stand.
“The trustees concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement. The board also dropped his name from the Ivy League school’s Wilson College.
Eisgruber said the trustees had decided in April 2016, in fending off an earlier public pressure campaign, to make the university “more inclusive and more honest about its history” but decided to retain Wilson’s name. It decided to revisit the issue now in light of the recent killing of George Floyd, while in police custody, and other Black Americans.
Four years ago, a 10-member committee gathered input from Wilson scholars and more than 600 submissions from alumni, faculty and the public before concluding that Wilson’s accomplishments merited commemoration, so long as his faults were also candidly recognized. The committee report also said using his name “implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.”
Graduate organizers issued a statement Saturday condemning the University for years of “hostility and delay” surrounding the decision.
“While the University would like to count their action today as a win, it is not theirs to claim,” reads a statement from Princeton Policy School Demands, a group of graduate school students that is coordinating with undergraduates and alumni for anti-racism and anti-Blackness reforms at Princeton.
Hundreds of students have signed petitions with demands beyond renaming the school, according to The Daily Princetonian. Among the demands: the establishment of a “Center for Anti-Racist Policy,” the adoption of anti-racist curriculum and reparations for the university’s historical ties to slavery and racism.
“The forms of racism in this country keep evolving and Princeton keeps participating in them — and that needs to stop,” Abyssinia Lissanu, a Master of Public Administration student, told USA TODAY. She says the school and its curriculum should be looking for “new solutions to old problems.”
Lissanu criticized the school’s decision to use campus police to protect property during previous protests and said the school’s curriculum often is written from a white, male and western perspective.
Last week, Monmouth University of New Jersey removed Wilson’s name from one of its marquee buildings and vowed to make greater efforts to support diversity efforts at the private university.
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Wilson, who was born in Staunton, Virginia, was the first Southerner to be elected U.S. president since Zachary Taylor in 1848. He served two terms as president, from 1913 to 1921. He served as president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910 when he resigned to run successfully for governor of New Jersey, a post he kept until he became president.
Eisgruber noted that Wilson, as president, “segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice.”
As president of Princeton, Wilson had also barred Black students from the Ivy League school and spoke approvingly of the Ku Klux Klan.
Eisgruber, who noted that the board had acted on his recommendation, said this “searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson’s racism disqualifies him from that role.”
“In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this University and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice,” he added.
The board, in its statement, said that identifying a political leader as a namesake for a public policy school “inevitably suggests that the honoree is a role model for those who study in the school.”
“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,” the board said.
Contributing: Susanne Cervenka, Asbury Park Press
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Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/27/princeton-drops-woodrow-wilsons-name-school-racist-policies/3270584001/
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