Wilson re-classified federal workers after decades of integration.
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The Princeton University board of trustees voted Saturday to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs for the 28th president’s “policies and racist thinking”.
“Identifying a political leader as the name of a school of public policy inevitably suggests that the honoree is a role model for those who study at the school. Therefore, we must ask ourselves whether it is acceptable for the school of public affairs of this University is named after a racist who segregated the nation’s civil service after he had been integrated for decades, “the university’s governing board said in a statement.
The board said the question was made “more urgent by the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks.”
Their deaths, the board said, “have served as tragic reminders of the continuing need for all of us to oppose racism and equality and justice.”
Wilson, a Democrat who served as President of Princeton in the early 1900s and then served as President of the United States between 1913 and 1921, again segregated federal government workers, reversing decades of integration.
Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a statement that Wilson’s segregationist policy led “the United States backward in its pursuit of justice.”
Student activists have protested the building’s name since 2015.
The building will be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. A residential university, called Wilson College, will also be renamed First College.
The university intended to close Wilson College and withdraw its name after the opening of two new residential universities, which are currently under construction.
However, “instead of asking university students to identify themselves with the name of a racist president for the next two years, the University will accelerate the retirement of honorary names,” according to the board’s statement.
The modifications occur when protesters across the country have called for the removal of monuments, statues, and buildings related to historical figures related to slavery or racism in the wake of Floyd’s death.
The board’s statement touched on the broader issue, saying it is important “we recognize the complexity of historical figures and examine the full extent of their impact on the world.”
The board noted that while Wilson’s name should not be in the School of Public and International Affairs, his accomplishments should be remembered along with his failures.
The university’s highest honor for an undergraduate student, the Woodrow Wilson Award, will keep his name.
The award was a gift, meaning he “assumed a legal obligation to name the award for Wilson,” according to the board.
“The steps taken yesterday by the Board of Trustees are extraordinary steps. These are not the only steps our University is taking to combat the realities and legacy of racism, but they are important,” said Eisgruber.