Princeton announced Saturday that it was striking the name of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from its public and international affairs school as well as a residential building, citing his “racist thinking and policies” during his time in office, as well as his tenure as president of the famed Ivy League school. The decision came after weeks of massive demonstrations across the country calling for an end to police brutality and structural racism.
As NPR reports, the decision to change the names of the buildings was approved by the university’s Board of Trustees on Friday:
Trustees noted that Wilson infamously segregated the nation’s civil service after decades of racial integration. That legacy, trustees concluded, was not befitting a school geared toward public service.
“We have taken this extraordinary step because we believe 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,” the board said.
The school will now be known as the School of Public and International Affairs, and the residential building bearing Wilson’s name will be referred to as “First College.”
Wilson was an alumnus of the prestigious school, and after more than ten years working at Princeton as a professor, he became the university’s president in 1902. During his tenure, Wilson blocked black students from matriculating at the university. He would continue enforcing racist policy as America’s 28th president, resegregating a federal government workforce that was previously integrated.
The move to strike Wilson’s name was applauded by Princeton alumna and former First Lady Michelle Obama, who tweeted her support for current students who have been pushing the school to grapple with its legacy.
“Heartened to see my alma mater make this change, and even prouder of the students who’ve been advocating for this kind of change on campus for years,” she tweeted on Monday. “Let’s keep finding ways to be more inclusive to all students—at Princeton and at every school across the country.”
(President Whats-His-face hated the move, bemoaning the possibility that Orange County’s John Wayne Airport might also be renamed. To paraphrase the immortal words of Flava Flav, motherfuck the both of them.)
Still, it should escape no one that when the conversation was about racist symbolism and its impact, removing the names and images of racist political leaders and war “heroes” from our schools, buildings, parks, and streets was an intractable dilemma. But now that the conversation has evolved toward dismantling structures and actual seats of power, institutions are parting with racist symbols at unprecedented speed.
According to NPR, this isn’t the first time students have protested Wilson’s legacy at the school: In 2015, a group of students occupied the president’s office to try to effect change. Last Monday, more than 200 current and recently graduated Princeton students wrote a letter to university administration calling for radical changes to be made to the Princeton’s school of public and international affairs, including substantive changes to the school’s core curriculum; the appointment of more Black faculty and other faculty of color; and beginning the process of paying reparations to the descendants of those enslaved by Princeton’s past presidents and donors.
We’ll see where Princeton lands on that.