Planet Princeton

Student Group Disappointed About Princeton University Report, Decision on Woodrow Wilson

Princeton University students at the sit-in at Nassau Hall in November. File photo.
Princeton University students at the sit-in at Nassau Hall in November. File photo.

A group of Princeton University students that held a rally and sit-in last November calling for the Ivy League school to rename buildings on campus that are named after Woodrow Wilson has issued a statement expressing disappointment with the school’s decision, announced this morning by the school’s board of trustees, to keep Wilson’s name on campus buildings and programs.

The Black Justice League issued a statement Monday evening criticizing a report by a Princeton University Trustee Committee on Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. The students said the report is full of “meaningless platitudes and the promise of yet another committee,” a special trustee committee on diversity and inclusion,when the school already has a task force on diversity and inclusion the students say has yet to produce any substantive changes. The students called the creation of a new committee “a favored placating tactic on the part of the institution.”

“We are not surprised by this decision; after all, Princeton, as an institution, has scarcely been ahead of its time or on the right side of history,” reads the statement, issued on Medium. “One has merely to look to its peer institutions to observe how much Princeton continues to lag behind.”

The students lifted up Harvard University as an example of doing the right thing. The highest governing body at Harvard, the Harvard Corporation, approved the changing of the Harvard Law School shield less than a week after a Harvard law committee released a report recommending its removal.

“What’s more, Harvard President Drew Faust has gone further as to initiate steps directed at formal recognition of Harvard’s ties to slavery and the slave trade,” reads the statement. “While Harvard remains far from perfect, in stark contrast, Princeton remains unable to even reckon and wrestle with its white supremacist foundations and its ongoing role in perpetuating racism, instead delivering shallow words and hollow promises.”

Student said they are not surprised by Princeton’s, decision but are disappointed.

“With these actions and others — such as its recent display of hypocrisy and inconsistency in its response to violent anti-Semitic attacks on campus — Princeton continues to demonstrate its seemingly intractable investment in white supremacy and its vestiges,” reads the statement. “Princeton’s decision today demonstrates unambiguously its commitment to symbols and legacies of anti-blackness in the name of history and tradition at the expense of the needs of and in direct contravention with the daily experiences of black students at Princeton.”

The statement then goes on to say that while the group’s demands regarding Woodrow Wilson have remained at the forefront of conversations and have garnered “overwhelming media attention,” the renaming of buildings was not the group’s primary or only demand. The Black Justice League also demanded the removal of the Woodrow Wilson mural, the establishment of cultural competency training for staff and faculty, amendments to the general education requirements that would incorporate diversity into the curriculum more, and the creation of a black cultural space. Students say the demands have not been fully met.

Students said Princeton University’s decision regarding Wilson’s name and inaction on other demands show that the modern university cannot be radically transformed by “simply adding darker faces, safer spaces, better training, and a curriculum that acknowledges historical and contemporary oppressions.”

Students said they have made repeated attempts over the past two years to operate within the institution in order to seek progress, but those efforts have been futile.

“We join a growing contingent of black students who recognize the limits of academic institutions as pioneers of transformative social justice,” reads the statement.

The group says it is  not beholden to working within the political frameworks dictated by Princeton in order to push for changes “that result in harm reduction for black students now and in the future.”

“We are committed to a renewed vision of social justice aimed not just at creating less hostile spaces but at broadly dismantling structural racism and other forms of institutionalized oppression in the service of black liberation and on our own terms,” reads the statement.

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber also issued a statement today, saying he agreed fully with the trustee committee’s  analysis and recommendations.

“I anticipated that the Princeton community would deliberate thoughtfully about Wilson’s legacy and that the Board would decide wisely.  The process surpassed my high expectations,” he said.

Eisgruber said the student protests have changed how the campus, and probably the country, will remember Woodrow Wilson.

“Over the past few months, many Princetonians remarked to me that they had little knowledge of Wilson’s racism.  I count myself among those who have learned from this process,” he said. ” I now have a deeper appreciation for Wilson’s failings and for what those failings have meant to this country and our campus.  While I continue to admire Wilson’s many genuine accomplishments, I recognize the need to describe him in a way that is more balanced, and more faithful to history, than this University and I have previously done.”

Eisgruber called the current quest to achieve genuine equality and inclusivity one society’s greatest and most profound challenges.

“I am confident that Princeton can be a leader in meeting that challenge,” he said.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    The doors are open, they may go anytime if they do not feel safe.

  • Robert Dana

    Look on the bright side. Groups like this aren’t all that concerned with attacks on Jewish people.

    This is a big step forward for small minds.

  • Turkmenbashi

    Lemme get this straight. This “Student group” is equating violent anti-Semitic attacks that happened just last week with having some buildings named after a historical figure with an admittedly deeply checkered record? What an utter, and to be honest–hateful–crock of sh*t. Perhaps all the Jewish groups on college campuses should run around the country taking down statues of Martin Luther, and renaming Martin Luther College while we’re at it, or disbanding Lutheran student societies (Luther was, after all, one of the most influential anti-Semites in history, for the record). But we don’t, because we welcome freedom of thought, discussion, and expression. Perhaps this “student group” at Princeton should learn to share these values.

  • Blake Cash

    I seem to recall the racial background of incoming freshman reported recently as being grossly disproportionate to the racial makeup of America, so I am interested in the basis of the Black Justice League’s comments.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    One point for PU.

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