BY: ELLA TORRES, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — The board of trustees at Princeton University voted Saturday to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from the School of Public and International Affairs for the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies.”
“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. 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 university’s board of trustees said in a statement.
The board said that the question was made “more urgent by the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks.”
Their deaths, the board said, “have served as tragic reminders of the ongoing need for all of us to stand against racism and for equality and justice.”
Wilson, a Democrat who served as the president of Princeton in the early 1900s and then served as the president of the U.S. between 1913 and 1921, re-segregated federal government workers, reversing decades of integration.
Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a statement Wilson’s segregationist policy took “America 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 college, named the Wilson College, will also be renamed to the First College.
The university had previously intended to close the Wilson College and retire its name after the opening of two new residential colleges, which are currently under construction.
However, “rather than ask students in the College to identify with the name of a racist president for the next two years, the University will accelerate retirement of the honorific naming,” according to the board’s statement.
The renamings come as protesters across the country have called for the removal of monuments, statues and buildings related to historical figures with links to slavery or racism in the wake of Floyd’s death.
The statement from the board touched on the broader issue, saying it is important “we recognize the complexity of historical figures and that we examine the entirety of their impact on the world.”
The board noted that while Wilson’s name should not be on the School of Public and International Affairs, his achievements should be remembered in tandem with his failures.
The university’s highest honor for an undergraduate alum, the Woodrow Wilson Award, will keep its name.
The award was a gift, meaning it “took on a legal obligation to name the prize for Wilson,” according to the board.
“The steps taken yesterday by the Board of Trustees are extraordinary measures. These are not the only steps our University is taking to combat the realities and legacy of racism, but they are important ones,” Eisgruber said.
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