“It’s important for students to understand great people are complicated”
Monday morning, the Associated Press reported that despite his segregationist views, President Woodrow Wilson’s name would stay on the public policy school building at Princeton University.
BREAKING: Princeton decides to keep Woodrow Wilson's name on policy school despite segregationist views.
— The Associated Press (@AP) April 4, 2016
Unlike Harvard, Princeton has chosen to live with the “complexity” of a leader from the past.
Last year, the Black Justice League stirred up a political correctness controversy when they passed out posters explaining Wilson’s views on race. The New York Times reports:
The board of trustees at Princeton University said on Monday that it had voted to keep Woodrow Wilson’s name on campus buildings and programs, despite student protests last year that led to a re-examination of Wilson’s legacy here.
Following a racially charged 32-hour sit-in in November, Christopher L. Eisgruber, the university president, signed an agreement to consider removing Wilson’s name from Princeton’s public policy school and a residential college because of Wilson’s views on race.
Wilson has been a much-loved figure at Princeton, but in September, the Black Justice League, a student activist group, distributed posters around campus that revealed his views on race, including his comment to an African-American leader that, “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”
As president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson reintroduced segregation into the federal work force, admired the Ku Klux Klan and did not believe that black Americans were worthy of full citizenship.
In the months after the sit-in, the board of trustees appointed the Wilson Legacy Review Committee to consider how the university should recognize Wilson, the 13th president of Princeton and 28th president of the United States. The committee invited scholars and community members to comment online and in small discussion groups.
“Princeton must openly and candidly recognize that Wilson, like other historical figures, leaves behind a complex legacy of both positive and negative repercussions,” the board said in a statement. The use of his name, the statement continued, “implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.”
The protesters had also called for the removal of a mural depicting Wilson from a campus dining hall. But that decision is not up to the board of trustees. Instead, it is up to Eduardo Cadava, the head of Wilson College. Mr. Cadava has not made a decision on the mural at this time, but an undergraduate committee has formed to advise him.
WBRC explained further:
Princeton created a website that included input from nine Wilson scholars and biographers, and received more than 600 submissions from Princeton alumni, faculty and the public. The program changes were recommended by a 10-member committee that met about a dozen times between December and March.
The board of trustees’ decision comes on the same day that the school launches an interactive exhibit putting Wilson in context for his era while emphasizing that he was a man apart from it – for better and worse. “In the Nation’s Service? Wilson Revisited” will run through Oct. 28. An interactive version is also available online, inviting viewers to tweet their reactions.
“What we were trying to do here is take the line that separates ‘Wilson good’ and ‘Wilson bad’ and expand it,” said Daniel Linke, archivist at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton and curator of the exhibit. “There’s a nuanced debate to be had. He’s still affecting us today.”
At least someone gets it:
Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Wilson School, said the students have opened a helpful dialogue that is part of a national conversation.
“It’s important for students to understand great people are complicated,” said Rouse. “Rarely is someone black or white. We have to learn to live with that complexity. It’s what we’re grappling with on campuses across the country. We can sandblast a name from the building, but to actually change how we operate, and what our community is like is much harder.”
Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekayeDONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.