Ivy League Princeton University has announced that it will remove the name of President Woodrow Wilson from the institution’s School of Public and International Affairs due to its history of racism.
In a statement released Saturday, university president Christopher Eisgruber said the decision came after a “thorough and deliberative process”, five years after a group of student activists occupied his office in protest of the dedication. from the faculty to the controversial 28th president.
The removal of Wilson’s name from the faculty, which will now be known as the School of Public and International Affairs, comes as many institutions across the United States face protests and campaigns for dedications and controversial monuments.
The movement, which has seen statues of attacked Confederate figures, as well as those of figures such as Christopher Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors, is part of a broad national debate on racism, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, who was African-American, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
In a statement, Princeton board members said they had considered “whether it is acceptable for this University’s school of public affairs to be named after a racist who segregated the nation’s civil service after being integrated for decades “
It was, they added, “a question … made more urgent by the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, which have served as tragic reminders of the continuing need for all of us to oppose racism and for equality and justice. “
Wilson is credited with improving educational standards at Princeton and was honored with the creation of a faculty dedicated to the study of public and international affairs, as well as a residential complex.
Although he is remembered as a progressive and internationalist statesman, Wilson’s reputation is clouded by his racist policies in other areas of government when he was president from 1913 to 1921.
Wilson segregated federal workers in Washington DC, blocked a proposal to include racial equality as a founding principle in the League of Nations, and organized screenings at the White House of the 1915 racist film Birth of a Nation, which celebrated the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. He was seen as accepting brutal racial segregation in the south as a way to maintain peace.
In the New York Times in 2015, attorney Gordon Davis, whose grandfather was demoted in his civil service career as part of a systematic purge of the federal government, wrote that Wilson “was not just a racist.”
“He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere change in policy; In doing so, it ruined the lives of countless talented African Americans and their families, “Davis wrote.
In his announcement, Eisgruber said the steps (Wilson’s name will also be removed from residences) were a necessary calculation, but only part of the picture of dealing with racism, both past and present.
“These are not the only steps our University is taking to combat the realities and legacy of racism, but they are important,” said Eisgruber, adding that he hoped the changes would provide “a firm basis for pursuing the mission of teaching, research and service that has defined our highest aspirations and generated our greatest achievements throughout our history and today. “