While much of the nation is engrossed in the race to elect the 45th president, members of the Princeton community have been preoccupied with the country’s 28th president and his views on race.
Woodrow Wilson, who served as the 13th president of Princeton University before becoming governor of New Jersey and then president of the United States, has long been celebrated on campus. The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is named for him, as is Wilson College, a complex of undergraduate dormitories.
But controversy broke out last year when a group of Princeton students demanded that the university re-examine Wilson’s legacy, including his views on race that were regressive even for his time. Among their demands were the removal of Wilson’s names from both the public policy school and the residential college.
University president Chris Eisgruber convened a committee to examine Wilson’s legacy and on April 4 released a report on its findings. According to a press release from the university:
“The trustees accepted the committee’s recommendation that the school of public and international affairs and the undergraduate residential college that bear Wilson’s name should continue to do so, but that the University also must be ‘honest and forthcoming about its history’ and transparent ‘in recognizing Wilson’s failings and shortcomings as well as the visions and achievements that led to the naming of the school and the college in the first place.’”
Meanwhile, the Bernstein Gallery at the Wilson School has mounted an exhibit, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” on view through October 28 and also available online at www.puww.us. In conjunction with that exhibit a free panel discussion takes place Friday, April 8, at 4:30 p.m. in Dodds Auditorium at Robertson Hall, examining Wilson’s contested legacy.
Panelists include Mia Bay, author of “To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells”; A. Scott Berg, a 1971 Princeton alumnus, trustee, and author of the biography “Wilson”; Eric Yellin, author of “Racism in the Nation’s Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson’s America”; and Chad Williams, author of “Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era.” A public reception in the Bernstein Gallery follows the discussion.