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Princeton to Keep Wilson’s Name on Buildings Despite His Racist Views

Princeton University students walk through an exhibit titled, "In the Nation's Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited," April 3, 2016, at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in Princeton, New Jersey.

Princeton University announces Monday that it will keep former president Woodrow Wilson’s name on campus buildings, delivering a blow to students who said it should be removed because he held racist views.

The Ivy League school’s Board of Trustees said Wilson’s name and likeness would remain in public spaces around campus and on the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; but, it acknowledged that “contextualization is imperative” to understanding his contested legacy.

Wilson served as the 13th president of Princeton and the 28th president of the United States. He is often remembered as a leader in the progressive movement during his time as president; but, he also supported racial segregation and prevented the enrollment of black students at Princeton.

Last year, a number of students from the Black Justice League engaged in a 32-hour sit-in at the Princeton president’s office to draw attention to Wilson’s views and force the school to acknowledge the impact those views had on Wilson’s policy decisions.

In response, the Board of Trustees appointed a special committee to consider Wilson’s legacy at Princeton and what changes, if any, should be made in how the university recognizes him on campus. The committee declined to recommend the removal of Wilson’s name from campus buildings, but said Princeton “needs to be honest and forthcoming about its history” and better explain the reasons why Wilson is so revered on campus.

“Even more important, in the committee’s view, is a strong reaffirmation by the Board of Trustees of the University’s commitment and determination to be a place that is truly diverse and inclusive, one that embraces, respects, and values all members of its on-campus and alumni communities,” its final report said.

Changes the panel proposed include the creation of a new Committee on Diversity and Inclusion “to ensure regular and active trustee attention” for diversity issues, and establishing a high-profile pipeline program to encourage minority students to apply for doctoral degrees.

On the same day as the committee announcement, the school launched an interactive exhibit to examine Wilson’s legacy, putting it in context of the era’s political climate and adding nuance to help people better understand the man – both good and bad.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.