Princeton University will rename Woodrow Wilson College, the oldest black residential college on campus, and will remove all elements bearing the former president’s name from the College’s facilities.
Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber made the announcement on Sunday at a meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees. In an official statement he explained that although the university “recognized the patriotism of Woodrow Wilson,” he did not deserve to “represent all of Princeton University.” The decision was prompted by protests that began in August.
“This decision is a legacy affirming step, especially for those of us fortunate enough to be black or brown and/or to be part of the transgender community,” Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a transgender student at Princeton, wrote in an email to The New York Times. “It sends a message of commitment to our history, our struggles and our aspirations.”
Members of the black community, including some faculty members, were upset by Wilson’s legacy because of the founder’s anti-minority policies that came to light in the late 1960s. They said that the school should reconsider renaming the college in the light of his legacy, as well as his racism and anti-Semitic policies. In response, students began speaking out against his “history of bigotry,” President Eisgruber said in the statement. The complaints about the selection of President Wilson also began in August, but the movement didn’t gain momentum until the time of the protests in September.
At a public event hosted by the Princeton branch of the NAACP, a group of students said in September that the current administration was trying to “win brown voters” by not trying harder to apologize for Wilson. The protest took place one day after a candlelight vigil to protest the campus’ close proximity to two private Jewish schools. In the statement released Sunday, Eisgruber affirmed that the college will no longer recognize Wilson, but said that the school’s “thoughts are with anyone who has been affected by these issues.”
The college’s decision to remove Wilson’s name doesn’t appear to be the only move to address the former president’s legacy. Wilson also faced a scandal earlier this year in which he confessed that he used racist stereotypes to describe black people. “My racial attitudes have not changed much over the last 20 years. I have never ceased to find pictures and stories of Negroes below the waist,” he wrote in a letter to a friend in 1955.