Planet Princeton

Princeton University to rename building after Toni Morrison, Woodrow Wilson School auditorium after Arthur Lewis

West College at Princeton University soon will be called Morrison Hall in honor of author Toni Morrison, and Dodds Auditorium at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will be called the Arthur Lewis Auditorium in honor of Sir Arthur Lewis.

The trustees at Princeton University voted to approve recommendations for the name changes that were made by the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming, a committee composed of faculty, students, staff and alumni that was established in the fall of 2016 to advise the trustees on the naming of “buildings or other spaces not already named for historical figures or donors to recognize individuals who would bring a more diverse presence to the campus.”

In the fall of 2015, students held a sit-in at the university president’s office to demand that the school removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from buildings and programs because of his racist views. Although the board of trustees decided not to remove Wilson’s name from institutions, the board “called for an expanded and more vigorous commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton” and took other steps, including forming the naming committee.

The committee made its recommendations for honoring Morrison and Lewis after seeking suggestions from the university community. More than 210 people submitted suggestions through a website.

Morrison, a professor emerita at Princeton, is a recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature. She was the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Morrison taught courses at Princeton in the humanities and African American studies. After several years she joined the creative writing program. Her arrival helped to attract other faculty and students of color to Princeton, and school officials said she played a catalytic role in expanding Princeton’s commitments both to the creative and performing arts and to African American studies.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Morrison won a National Book Critics Circle Award for “Song of Solomon” in 1977, a Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved” in 1988, the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1993, the National Humanities Medal in 2000, the Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur in 2010, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Emerson-Thoreau Medal in 2017.

The naming committee recommended “that Princeton further preserve Toni Morrison’s legacy — and especially her commitments to teaching, to the arts, to diversity and inclusion, and to ‘The Place of the Idea, The Idea of the Place’ — by inscribing her name on the building that stands at the heart of the undergraduate academic and co-curricular experience at Princeton, housing as it does, among other offices, the dean of the college, the dean of undergraduate students, and the offices of admission, financial aid and the registrar.”

One of the oldest buildings on the Princeton campus, West College was initially constructed in 1836 as a dormitory on the west side of Cannon Green, across from a dormitory known as East College that had been constructed two years earlier and that was removed in 1897 to make way for Pyne Library, which is now known as East Pyne.

Lewis joined the Princeton faculty in 1963 as a professor of public and international affairs who taught undergraduate and graduate courses in economic development and economic history. He retired from the faculty in 1983, but remained associated with the University in emeritus status until his death in 1991. Lewis was knighted in 1963. In 1979 he won the Nobel Prize in economics, and he remains the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in a field other than literature or peace.

A native of St. Lucia, Lewis was the first person of African descent to be appointed a professor in Great Britain’s university system. Over the course of his career he published over 80 professional articles and wrote 12 books. He served as economic adviser to the government of Ghana when it gained independence in 1957 and served as a consultant to such other nations as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Nigeria and Barbados.

Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize for his pioneering research into economic development, with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries. The naming committee said the scope of his research was” truly international, and in our judgment it is important to have that message — along with a message about diversity and inclusion — associated with Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs.”

The auditorium in Robertson Hall at the Woodrow Wilson School is one of the most prominent teaching spaces in the school in which he taught. The auditorium is named after Harold Dodds, Princeton’s 15th president. As part of the name change to Arthur Lewis auditorium, the atrium at Robertson Hall will be named the Dodds Atrium.

The name changes will take effect July 1.

Correction: The original headline for the story indicated that West College is a residential college. The building is now an administration building. Thank you to the readers who alerted us about the headline error. 

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.

  • FreshAir

    The individuals chosen navigated great challenges with wisdom and optimism… such achievements will stand the test of time & will continue to inspire.

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