The Slatest

Princeton Will Remove Woodrow Wilson’s Name From School

The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is seen at Princeton University in this photo taken on August 14, 2010.
The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is seen at Princeton University in this photo taken on August 14, 2010. Zane R/WikiMedia Commons

Princeton University’s school of public policy will no longer carry the name of former President Woodrow Wilson and neither will a residential college. The school, which since 1948 has been known as the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will now simply be called the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. The university will also remove the former president’s name from one of its residential colleges that will now be known as “First College.” That name recognizes its its “status as the first of the residential colleges that now play an essential role in the residential life of all Princeton undergraduates,” according to a statement issued by the university on Saturday.

The Princeton University Board of Trustees voted Friday on the naming changes a mere four years after they had voted to maintain Wilson’s name despite calls by students for changes. The meeting in which the vote took place was held to discuss ways in which Princeton could “oppose racism.” The university’s trustees concluded that Wilson’s “racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combatting the scourge of racism in all its forms,” notes the statement.

In a letter to the university’s community, Princeton’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, made clear that the move wasn’t just about using today’s values to judge history because the former president’s “racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time.” Wilson, who was president of the university from 1902 to 1910 before he became U.S. president in 1913 “segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice,” Eisgruber wrote. “He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.” It marked a stark change from April 2016, when the university’s board of trustees voted to keep the former president’s name on campus buildings and programs.

Dean Cecelia Rouse said in a statement she supported the name change as well as the decision not to name the school after anybody else. “I have often been asked if not Wilson, then who should the School be named for? I am glad we are not going down that path,” she wrote. “Connecting the School to a certain person signals that the School stands for much of what the honoree believes. I feel that for a policy school to be the best, it has to be a place where a true diversity of backgrounds and beliefs exist.”

Students who had organized behind an organization called Change WWS and had sent a letter earlier in the week calling for the renaming told the Daily Princetonian that they “appreciate the University’s swift response.” But they also said that was just the tip of the iceberg. In an Instagram post, the organizers said that the renaming “is one small part of our list of demands.”