Updated: U. to keep Woodrow Wilson's name on buildings, change informal motto| Apr 4, 2016
The University Board of Trustees announced Monday morning that it had approvedrecommendationsfrom the Wilson Legacy Committee’s report.
Included among the decisions was that the Wilson School and Wilson College will continue to be named after Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, and that the University will change its informal motto.
Other approved recommendations include establishing a pipeline program to encourage more underrepresented students to pursue doctoral degrees and diversifying campus art. The committee also recommended designating a Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion within the board’s Executive Committee to oversee these actions.
Brent Henry ’69, vice chair of the board who chaired the committee, explained that the committee collectively decided on its recommendations and the board later voted to approve them, but he did not specify the number of votes in favor of the recommendations.
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, who notified the members of University community about the board's recommendations via email on Monday morning, noted in an interview with the Daily Princetonian that the approved initiatives are ways for the University to affirm and energize its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“The board strongly endorsed the committee’s report and recommendations, including its call for a renewed and expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion, and for much greater transparency in representing Wilson and his legacy, as well as the rest of our history, on our campus,” said Chair of the Board Kathryn Hall ’80.
Long-term conversations surrounding Wilson’s legacy amplified last November followinga sit-inby the Black Justice League in Nassau Hall. The protestors requested removal of Wilson’s name from buildings, creation of a diversity distribution requirement, a mandatory cultural competency training for faculty and staff and creation of University affinity spaces.
In early December, the University Board of Trustees designatedthe ten-member committeeto consider these requests. The committee collected 635 responses from members of the University community and scholars who have studied Wilson by late March. It also hosted 11 on-campus group discussions, with more than 80 participants in total.
The committee included trustees A. Scott Berg ’71, Katherine Bradley ’86, Denny Chin ’75, Angela Groves ’12, Hall, Henry, Robert Hugin ’76, Robert Murley ’72, Margarita Rosa ’74 and Ruth Simmons.
InJanuary, the University began assigning temporary affinity spaces to ethnic, racial and cultural groups.
The report does not include updates about the possible creation of a University diversity distribution requirement or mandatory cultural competency training.
Members of the Black Justice League declined to comment.
Henry noted that although the committee understood the reasons behind the call for name change, it ultimately decided that Wilson’s contributions to public and international affairs outweigh his racist legacy.
The Trustees also accepted the committee’s recommendation to change the University’s informal motto from “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of all nations” to “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” A plaque with the new motto will be installed at the front of campus.
Henry explained that the committee arrived at this decision because the old motto evoked the University’s association with Wilson and many people have questioned what it meant in a contemporary context.
He added that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor '76had previously suggested that the University adopt a broader perspective on what the University inspires students to undertake.
“[This change] was another gesture — hopefully lasting and inspiring — to send the message to have students think beyond our border and not be confined to a political border,” said Henry.
“The change in the informal motto is one example of a way that Princeton can both recognize its history while transforming and evolving to acknowledge the contributions of the new Princetonian,” Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun noted, adding that the recommendations from the committee go beyond the consideration of the name of the school and the college and recognize the ways that the University must redouble its efforts to realize true inclusivity.
Some of the recommendations include that the University acknowledge that Wilson held and acted on racist views and implement initiatives to move toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive place.
One such initiative is a pipeline program to encourage underrepresented students to pursue doctoral degrees and to diversify the University faculty. The trustees have authorized the administration to proceed with actions necessary to develop this program.
Eisgruber said that he and members of the committee curated the pipeline program with the recognition that while the University has been successful in diversifying its undergraduate body, it has been less successful in diversifying other sectors, including faculty and the graduate student body.
“[We] cannot have diverse faculties at this University, as well as other universities, unless we get more diverse graduate student bodies,” he noted, adding that the program may be a long-term project.
“It will matter a great deal to the sense of inclusivity on this and other campuses because if we can start to make our graduate student bodies and ultimately our faculties look more like America and look more like our undergraduate student body, then it will enhance this sense of inclusivity on the campus,” he said.
Both Eisgruber and Henry noted that no official timeline with exact dates has been laid out yet on how, when and by whom these initiatives will be carried out. Eisgruber added that he hopes the changes will be implemented as quickly as possible.
Eisgruber said that some of the recommendations, such as the recommendation on diversifying campus art and iconography, will be rapidly implemented.
In its report, the committee recommends that the administration develop a process to solicit community input with regards to naming buildings and spaces that are not already named after a historical figure. In particular, the committee has encouraged the administration to name the atrium in Robertson Hall in this manner.
Eisgruber noted that plans have already begun for the naming of the atrium as well as the design and implementation of the plaque with the unofficial motto, and noted the current campus art as “[not doing] justice to the diversity of our student body and our community today.”
“We can make this [campus] a more interesting place, a better place and a more inclusive place by making our campus artwork and names of our campus places more diverse,” he said.
Both Henry and Eisgruber noted that the special committee on diversity and inclusion will continue the work of the Committee in ensuring appropriate efforts are put into implementing the initiatives.
Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter noted that the report acknowledges both the University’s strengths and weaknesses regarding diversity and the way history has been discussed on the campus.
“As the trustees pointed out in their report, we will benefit from a more candid understanding of Princeton's past. The campus community has inherited certain traditions but we also have the obligation to establish our own legacy,” she said.“It does what a university should be able to do, which is to collect information and perspectives and grapple with complicated and controversial topics in a nuanced way. It challenges the administration and the campus community to do even more to create an inclusive campus, and I welcome that charge.”
She added that the University is already working on several recommendations of the committee and said that she looks forward to working with students on these projects and reporting on the progresses.
“The Board of Trustees’ initiatives aim to address the heart of the issue: how to improve diversity and inclusion at Princeton and how to more completely represent those who are honored on campus,” Dean of the Wilson School Cecilia Rouse noted. “I believe both are critical for Princeton to successfully welcome students, faculty and staff from very different backgrounds and with very different points of view,” Rouse said.
Head of Wilson College Eduardo Cadava and Director of Student Life Aaron King did not respond to request for comment.
Some students welcomed the move towards diversity and inclusion.
Katrine Steffensen ’18, who recently declared a concentration in the Wilson School, noted that she thinks the decisions, particularly the art project and the pipeline program, are steps in the right direction to diversify the campus community.
"I care that my friends can see themselves and their place on this campus and in its history and that they can feel proud of it. And I care that everyone in this situation seems to have good intentions,”Selena Kitchens ’17noted, “In a conversation that seems so much about symbolism – the symbol of Woodrow Wilson, the symbol of Princeton – I think it’s hard to know from the outside what is merely symbolic and what will lead to real change, so I am hopeful that many of the suggestions… can be steps toward Princeton reflecting its ideals as well as its history."
Jeremy Borjon GS, president of the Latino Graduate Student Association, said that he is glad that the University frankly acknowledged Wilson's problematic legacy and reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I applaud the University for their movement to establish a high-profile pipeline program to encourage underrepresented students to pursue doctoral degrees,” he said.
Yet many students noted that the report and the announcement did not address some of the main points from last November’s protests. Students also noted concerns about the lack of actionable language in the report.
Borjon noted that he did overall find the report disappointing.
“They had an opportunity to demonstrate bold and creative thinking that would set the standard for how institutions grapple with their racist past. The University failed to lead with any such action,” Borjon said.
Faridah Laffan ’18 said that changing the motto doesn't seem to do anything beneficial.
Jamie O'Leary '19 noted that she and her roommate were surprised that there was no mention on the decision to keep Wilson’s name in Eisgruber’s email.
“We had to go into the report to find it. On the Princeton website, the article about the decision is entitled, 'Trustees call for expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion.'” she said. “Although I think it's great that the diversity and inclusion are being emphasized, it seems as if the University is trying to cover up or downplay the significant decision that's been made.”
Sarah Sanneh ’19 noted that she thinks both the report and Eisgruber's letter completely circumvent the issues brought up by the Black Justice League.
“How does the final proposed change of an informal motto do anything to help alleviate the negative experiences of students of color here at Princeton? In fact, I would argue that nothing has been changed because the committee has merely taken out one concept, 'all nations,' and replaced it with a similar word, 'humanity.' What does this accomplish?” she said. “I am disappointed by the lack of response to the proposals regarding racial sensitivity training for faculty and staff. Many of my friends have experienced some level of race-based discrimination not only from fellow students, but from advisors and professors as well. This is not acceptable, yet this is an issue that the task force deemed acceptable to ignore.”
Sanneh further dismissed the composition of the committee, saying that many of the trustees would have not experienced the tension that minority students on campus have experienced and are still experiencing.
“I am sorely disappointed in the conclusion reached by the Trustee Committee on Woodrow Wilson's Legacy at Princeton — even the name of the committee only acknowledges the most sensational aspect of the BJL's proposal — but I'm not sure what else I could have expected from a task force composed of people who have had the privilege of experiencing a Princeton unprejudiced towards them because of the color of their skin. Before we claim to be in service of all of humanity, perhaps it would serve us well to acknowledge and take steps to alleviate the negative racial experiences of humans on our own campus,” she said.
When asked about the lack of actionable language in the report,Henry said the committee only made recommendations and it was the trustees that drafted the final report.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article noted that Eisgruber did not answer to question on lack of actionable language. He answered the question through explaining that with him and other administrators already working on some of the initiatives, the recommendations will be implemented soon and that the initiatives will have direct impacts on campus climate.