Princeton University is renaming its public policy school and Wilson College after concluding that US President Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies “make him an inappropriate namesake.”
Announcing the move on Saturday, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said it related to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks, Black Americans who died at the hands of police in recent months.
The board’s Friday vote to rename the School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College follows a wave of protests in the United States and around the world against racial injustice that were prompted by the deaths.
It contrasted with a 2016 decision to keep the schools’ names intact after considering a change following student protests in November 2015.
Eisgruber said Wilson’s “racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time,” citing his segregation of the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades.
The policy school will be renamed The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Wilson was the university’s president before becoming governor of New Jersey, and then president of the United States from 1913 to 1921.
His policies make him an “especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school,” as it suggests he is a model for students at the school, which “must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,” Eisgruber said.
Wilson College will instead be known as First College, accelerating the retirement of the name by two years. Princeton had already planned to close the college and drop its name when it opens two new residential colleges that are being built.
However, the university’s highest honour for undergraduates – The Woodrow Wilson Award – will keep its name as it was the result of a gift, which gives the university a legal obligation to name the prize for Wilson, Princeton’s board said.