More than 300 students at Princeton University walked out of class this morning, marched to Nassau Hall, and demanded that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from all school buildings because he was a racist.
Members of the student group Black Justice League then announced the immediate start of a sit-in they promised will last until their list of demands is met by Princeton University officials.
“We demand you acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and how it impacted the climate at Princeton,” said a student with a megaphone who stood with others on the steps of Nassau Hall.
Princeton students join students at colleges and universities across the country in calling for their schools to address racism on campus. Protests have taken place over the past week at The University of Massachusetts Amherst, John Jay College, Wesleyan University, and Smith College. Protests at Yale University and the University of Missouri in recent weeks have drawn national media attention and sparked protests on other campuses.
The Princeton students demanded that the school rename all buildings named after Wilson, and the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs. They also want a Wilson mural removed from the Wilcox Dining Hall. Seeing the name honored on campus makes black students feel like second-class citizens, students said.
Students also demanded that the school hold cultural competency training sessions for faculty and staff.
“It was voted down on the grounds of trespassing freedom of speech last semester,” the student said. “We demand a public conversation, which will be student led and administration supported, on the true role of freedom of speech and intellectual freedom of thought in a way that does not reinforce anti-blackeness and xenophobia.”
The students demanded that classes on the history of marginalized peoples be added to distribution requirements in order for a student to graduate.
Students also called on the school to provide a dedicated space on campus for black students that is clearly marked. The students want to be able to name the space themselves, and don’t want it named after “a white benefactor or person with bigoted beliefs, as evidenced by the naming of Stanhope Hall.”
Students then chanted “We here, we been here, we ain’t leavin. We are loved.”
After the gathering, student filed into Nassau Hall, where Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber met with them. The students had demanded that Eisgruber sign their document.
“I appreciate where your demands are coming from,” he said. “”I agree with you that Woodrow Wilson was a racist, but I cannot sign your document.”
Students told Eisgruber he doesn’t understand where they are coming from because he is white. They said they are sick of having discussions about race and want action, and that some faculty members are “disgustingly racist.”
A few dozen students remained inside Nassau Hall for the evening. At 5 p.m. the main entrace to Nassau Hall was locked, and a school official told students they could potentially face disciplinary action for violating school policy and remaining in the building after hours. Students were determined to stay.
Meanwhile, supporters held a rally in front of Nassau Hall at about 7:30 p.m. to show solidarity with students who are inside the building. About 100 students participated. They chanted slogans like “No justice, no peace,” and “We won’t tolerate hate”, and sang Amazing Grace.
The group marched across campus, stopping at the Princeton University Chapel, the Frist Student Center, and Wilson College. Students picked up sleeping bags, pillows, and other supplies and headed back to the front of Nassau Hall, where they planned to spend the night.
Eisgruber has not issued a public statement yet about the protests. It is likely one will be issued on Thursday.