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Princeton to remove Woodrow Wilson's name from school, citing his 'racist thinking and policies'

"Trustees concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake" for the School of Public and International Affairs, the Princeton president said.
Image: Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in Princeton, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2015.Dominick Reuter / Reuters file

Princeton University's board has voted to remove the name of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from the university's prestigious School of Public and International Affairs due to his "racist thinking and policies."

Friday's statement by the board of trustees was shared with the Princeton community by Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber.

"On my recommendation, the board voted to change the names of both the School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College," Eisgruber wrote. "As you will see from the board’s statement, 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."

The board had previously considered removing Wilson's name in 2016 after a group of student activists occupied the university president's office months earlier, Eisgruber noted.

But a review committee chose to keep the name, recommending instead a "number of reforms to make this University more inclusive and more honest about its history," the president said in his email Saturday.

The decision to reconsider came in the wake of deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks, which have sparked nationwide protests.

What was Wilson College will now be called First College, while the public affairs school will be known as The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

"Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today," the president wrote.

The university had already planned to close Wilson College and retire the name as it builds two new residential colleges but decided the course of action would be to accelerate the retirement of the name.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss wrote on Twitter that "Princeton is doing the right thing by firmly separating itself from the Woodrow Wilson legacy."

In a second tweet, he posted a screenshot of a quote from the racist film, "Birth of a Nation," in which Wilson praised the Ku Klux Klan.

Sam Wang, a professor of neuroscience at the university, also praised the decision as did several students.

"He was a consequential figure in our nation's history and in building Princeton University. But his racism, unacceptable even during his lifetime, was too much," Wang tweeted.

Chaya Crowder, a doctoral candidate at the university, wrote on Twitter that the renaming is "a product of years of dedicated organizing by students activists."

"It took too long and is absolutely the [bare] minimum, but the removal of the woodrow wilson name is a direct result of the work of the BJL," student Josiah Gouker posted, referring to the student activist organization the Black Justice League.

"We need to continue that work," Gouker tweeted.