Philanthropist and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, Mellody Hobson, has gifted her alma mater Princeton University with a major donation to construct a new residential college on the site of one previously named after Woodrow Wilson.
This summer, the school’s Board of Trustees voted to remove Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs (which Hobson graduated from in 1991) as well as from the residential Wilson College, due to the former president’s documented racism. Among other things, Wilson championed the segregation of workers in federal agencies during his time in the White House.
Now his named residential college at Princeton will be replaced with one honoring Hobson, after the businesswoman and her Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation (which she established with her husband, Star Wars creator George Lucas) gave a lead gift to the University to begin building a new residential college at the Ivy League in 2023. It will be the first at the school to bear the name of a Black woman.
“My hope is that my name will remind future generations of students — especially those who are Black and brown and the ‘firsts’ in their families — that they too belong. Renaming Wilson College is my very personal way of letting them know that our past does not have to be our future,” said Hobson, in the official announcement from Princeton about her gift.
Hobson told the Washington Post that there is significant symbolism in Princeton removing Wilson’s name in favor of a Black woman’s, and that she was eager to make the gift to the school after its administrators offered to do so.
Hobson was honored by the university in 2019 with a Woodrow Wilson Award, and said at the time it was strange to receive an award named for someone who would not have been welcoming to her. “Despite the school’s colors, President Wilson failed to see that orange and black belong together,” she said then.
Notwithstanding Wilson’s role as president of the United States, an office she respects, Hobson said he made some very clear, bold statements about his beliefs around race. “Those are in conflict with the underlying values of the university — especially today.”
“The idea that you could remove that was compelling to me,” she said.
“This extraordinary gift will be transformative for Princeton,” the school’s president Christopher L. Eisgruber said of the major contribution from Hobson and her husband. “It will enable us to improve the student experience at Princeton and to reimagine a central part of our campus, while also recognizing a remarkable woman who is a positive, powerful force for change in the world.”
The Hobson College is scheduled to open on Princeton’s campus in the fall of 2026, after which students will be able to say “meet you at Hobson!” in reference to the residence, according to the school’s announcement.
How cool is that?