Planet Princeton

Princeton University to Remove Woodrow Wilson Photo from Dining Hall Wall

Wilson muralA mural of Woodrow Wilson throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game will be removed from the wall of a dining hall at Wilson College, one of the residential colleges at Princeton University, school officials announced today.

A committee of Wilson College students recommended that the photograph be removed and the head of the college agreed.

“Its size and prominence in the Wilcox dining hall has seemed to us as it has to President Eisgruber as well  as ‘unduly celebratory’ and not in keeping with the spirit of Wilson College’s founding wish to have Princeton be a place that is truly diverse and inclusive, and one that embraces, respects and values all its members,” Wilson College Head and Professor Eduardo Cadava wrote in a statement about the issue.

Cadava’s decision was endorsed by other leaders and the campus art steering committee.

The Princeton University facilities department is expected to remove the image over the next few days. Cadava suggested that the photograph be replaced with a “visual representation that embodies the college’s unique history in relation to issues of inclusion and diversity.”

The image of Wilson is a black and white photograph from a 1915 Washington Senators game overlaid in reddish orange. The photo was installed as part of a renovation of the dining hall in 2009.

“To refer to the image as a mural is to confer an artistic merit on the image that it does not really have and, because it was only installed in the dining hall seven years ago and, mostly as a signature design element, it also does not have the longstanding value that other honorific memorials might have,” Cadava said.

Cadava said Wilson College was founded in 1957 by students as part of a stance against elitism and exclusion. In 1960 the University opened Wilcox Hall and the New Quad dormitories, which became the locus of the renamed Woodrow Wilson Society. The society was student-run until 1968, when Wilson became the first of the University’s six residential colleges.

“What I have always admired about this history is that a group of students took a stance against discrimination in the name of diversity and inclusion and, in doing so, established an alternative community founded on principles of social justice,” Cadava said.

The Princeton University Board of Trustees recently decided to keep Wilson’s name on the college and on the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, but the photo’s fate was a matter internal to the college.

Cadava formed an ad hoc committee with 12 student members who attended events of the trustees’ Wilson legacy committee, read scholarly reports on Wilson, conducted interviews with members of the Wilson community, and organized a public discussion at the college.

In his statement about the removal, Cadava cited a passage from the student report: “It is important to remember that the name of the college was chosen in honor not of Wilson, but of his vision for the residential college system…This means that the college was named not so much for a man as for his ideas, which creates a degree of separation between the two. However, the mural, which so clearly celebrates the man, begins to chip away at this degree of separation. The giant picture in the dining hall unavoidably brings the man Wilson into the college Wilson.”

Cadava said the Princeton University community owes a “felt debt” to the Black Justice League, a group of students who focused attention on the racist aspects of Wilson’s views.

“From my perspective — a perspective that I believe honors the wonderful history of Wilson College — the ad hoc student committee’s recommendation to remove the Wilson ‘mural’ is an effort to lay one stone aright today, in the hope that others can be lain aright in the future,” Cadava wrote.

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.

  • Blake Cash

    We decent folk have to stick together. It is good to know you better.

  • Pat Palmer

    I hear that you are feeling wounded by the current degree of dialog, some of it in quite an angry tone, surrounding racial issues. And you bring up a side issue–that people who define themselves mainly as victims and cling to belonging to a group seeking political power (say, black or gay people) might be limiting their own definition of themselves in a somewhat sad way.

    As far as what or whom is a symbol, it’s not worth arguing over. Recently, to me, Wilson became associated with racism because of the disclosures. I don’t resent it; in fact, I can imagine how black students might feel. They might feel, for example, the way I feel when Trump insults women and the media assist him by repeating his insults far and wide.

    Thank you for posting. We need not agree on everything. It interests me to understand how you feel–especially as a fellow Southerner.

  • Blake Cash

    You may be illuminating my point. Wilson had flaws, but he is not by any means a “strong symbol of racism.”

    “imagine how YOU would feel if you were a black person and surrounded by icons of people who openly spouted dislike of blacks” implies the feelings are universal. They are not. Some people, regardless of color, have evolved to the point of accepting the complexities of human beings. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a great man, despite his human flaws. Let us pray his monuments are not one day torn down.

    Today, as a white person, I am faced with people who openly spout dislike of people like me without repercussion. They attempt, and may be successful, in removing icons of my cultural heritage, denying their existence. In so doing, they attempt to deny my existence. Talk about warfare. Fortunately, I was raised (in the South) by people who taught me not to blame a group for the actions of a few, or racism would be growing within me, as I am sure it grows within others in the face of these people.

    Personally, I have been exploring my own grasp of graciousness, and for the first time in my life recognizing how rare it is. As a species, we are capable of growth, but I feel we are on an evolutionary cusp. Those who continue to foster hatred rooted in a past we can only change through growth will never grow. This applies regardless of the particular xenophobia; we are human, hating color, religion, or ethnicity may be by some measure more valid than hating the past, but they are all still hate.

  • Pat Palmer

    I would have agreed with you a few months ago, before Princeton students brought to the public eye information about how Wilson went out of his way to prevent blacks from obtaining government jobs during his tenure. Now that this information is out there, I’ve had enough. I grew up (in TN) surrounded by white men denouncing black folks. IMO, it’s time to publicly denounce the denouncers.

    Can you try for one moment to imagine how YOU would feel if you were a black person and surrounded by icons of people who openly spouted dislike of blacks? And who maybe prevented your grandfather from obtaining employment? That’s a kind of warfare–preventing people from having jobs.

  • Blake Cash

    Pat, I do not follow your logic. How is a photograph of the President of the United States, an alumni of the school, throwing out the first pitch of a baseball game, a “strong symbol of racism”?

    Not that I believe impressions are democratic in any way, but were you to show the photograph to any representative sample of American citizens, how many would identify it as a symbol of anything other than the national pastime?

  • Robert Dana

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The position they’ve taken is so logically inconsistent. It is not sustainable.

    President Eisgruber is a legal scholar. Professor Cadava is no slouch – although his on-line biography still notes that he is “Master” not “Head” of Wilson College. Horrors! (The title was recently changed to appease the haters.)

    You would think that one of the most prestigious institutions on the planet would have thought this matter through better. I’m suprised the BJL hasn’t pressed its advantage.

    Prediction. Princeton will ultimate drop the Wilson name altogether. I’m not a big fan of the 28th President, but that will be a sad day.

  • Robert Dana

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The position they’ve taken is so logically inconsistent. It is not sustainable.

    President Eisgruber is a legal scholar. Professor Cadava is no slouch – although his on-line biography still notes that he is “Master” not “Head” of Wilson College. Horrors! (The title was recently changed to appease the haters.)

    You would think that one of the most prestigious institutions on the planet would have thought this matter through better.

    Prediction. Princeton will ultimate drop the Wilson name altogether. I’m not a big fan of the 28th President, but that would be wrong.

  • WhatInTheWorldz

    What the heck does “unduly celebratory” mean? What a bunch of gobble-gook.
    It’s obvious the college is throwing a bone to those objecting to Wilson and his racist beliefs, while still clinging to some historical legacy that belongs to the man. I think PU has to make up its mind: denounce Wilson or accept him. Straddling this moral fence makes the university look morally ambivalent and socially ignorant. Seriously, take a stand.

  • Robert Dana

    Precisely. It’s a photo. BTW, Woodrow Wilson is now a “strong” symbol of racism? Like the swastika perhaps?

  • Robert Dana

    Good to hear that something named after Woodrow Wilson was “wonderful”.

    As to those hitherto exclusionary clubs. I call for them to change their names immediately. The racists and class-based images they may conjure in a student’s mind could make him or her really, really uncomfortable.

  • Blake Cash

    Diversity and inclusion means excluding a photograph of a man because of his ideas while stating the issue is the man and not his ideas.

    I suspect one day these students may need the English language in order to communicate. They are not prepared.

  • Pat Palmer

    I am astounded that some commenters on Facebook actually object to this. It’s a photo, it’s “in your face”, and why should such a strong symbol of racism be displayed prominently any longer? Good riddance. Good decision, Princeton.

  • John Heilner

    Great decision, Prof Cadava and your committee! I am a 1963 graduate of our beloved University, which must still contend with historical mistakes not limited to Woodrow Wilson’s racist policies. BTW, I think President Eisgruber is doing a great job in this regard.

    I recall very clearly that the Woodrow Wilson Society was a wonderful alternative for students who wanted no part of the eating club system. While many of the clubs were fine back in my undergraduate years, many others were exactly the opposite of diverse and inclusive. The “bicker” system perpetuated this, as there were no “sign-in” clubs in that era – so every club could be as racist and socio-economically exclusionary as it chose. (Today’s sign-in clubs allow students to enter without undergoing a secret vetting process by current members – which is what the bicker system was/is.)

  • Robert Dana

    I’ve never heard so much double speak in my life.

    This from the Master, I mean Head, of Wilson College.

    -It’s not really a mural because it was only created a few years ago. What?

    -Wilson College wasn’t really named after Wilson the man; but rather, Wilson’s ideas.

    (But I thought it was some of Wilson’s ideas that got him into hot water in the first place. Is Ichan Laboratory named after Carl Ichan or his ideas? He had some pretty good ones about evading US securities laws.)

    -The mural, I mean poster, is “unduly celebratory.”

    (The President was throwing out the first pitch of the 1915 baseball season. The National Pastime – back then at least. If Wilson had a grave expression – one more befitting a fan of the Washington Senators – would the mural remain?)

    -A debt is owed to the Black Justice League for bringing this matter to the University’s attention.

    (Now Mr. Cadava. Are you saying the University was not aware of Wilson’s views on race? More like, the removal of the ‘mural’ was the ‘debt’ owed the BJL in consideration for it vacating the President’s office.)

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