The Wilson School will be holding a public exhibit in Robertson Hall titled “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited” between Apr. 4 and Oct. 28 to display the complexity of the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879.
Elisabeth Donahue, Wilson School associate dean of Public Affairs and Communications, said the exhibit was done on behalf of the entire University, at the request of University President Christopher Eisgruber '83.
"The content was provided by the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, which worked in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson School… the design was done by an outside firm," she noted.
The exhibit looks at how Wilson was viewed by his contemporaries – many of whom were very critical of his views on race, on civil liberties and on women, Donahue said.
“Wilson was a complex man and the exhibit tries to capture that,” she noted.
According to Donahue, Wilson’s legacy has seen heightened controversy in recent years as more of his actions have been brought to the attention of the University Community.
“The conversation about Wilson’s legacy – including his legacy on race – had been started before the protest, going back many years, in fact," she said. "When a Washington Post blog post made its way around last summer, we had started to plan an event to address this important issue.”
Donahue also noted that the protest bythe Black Justice League last November played a major role in the creation of this exhibit.
“One of the things we heard from protesting students was that it is not just a problem that Wilson was flawed, but it is a problem that he is so venerated across this campus. So the title of the exhibit – In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited – tries to get at the heart of the BJL’s protest about how Wilson is honored at Princeton," she said.
Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Wilson School, noted the importance of student activism in creating dialogues, like the exhibit, around campus.
“I'd say that I embrace student activism; it keeps us all on our toes,” she said.
However, the exhibit and the ongoing considerations over the renaming of Wilson School and the Wilson College remain entirely separate, she noted.
"The naming decision lies with the Trustees, and we at the School will follow their decision, whatever it is," she said. "This exhibit is meant to try to explore Wilson, his legacy on multiple dimensions, and start a dialogue."
University Trustees will announce their decision on the renaming of the buildings named after Wilson on Monday. In December2015, the Trustees commissioned a committee to review Wilson's legacy.
Donahue explained that there is a hashtag, #RevisitWilson, and a Twitter feed that will be displayed on two monitors in the exhibit. There is also a website being built that will feature a digital version of the exhibit, and students can contact firstname.lastname@example.org about the exhibit, she said. Additionally, visitors can leave comments on a board with cards and pens; these comments will be eventually digitized, she explained.
"This exhibit is the beginning of a dialogue, not the last word," she said.
Donahue, however, also added that she was unsure as to how the public would respond. She added that she hopes many people see it, particularly students.
"We have built in many ways for people to share their reactions,” she said.
Sarah Prieto ’19 said she is excited about the project.
“I’m glad we will have nuanced perspectives on the issue from experts in the field! I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
Brandon McGhee ’18 said he hopes that Woodrow Wilson’s legacy will be re-evaluated as a result of the exhibit.
“I’m glad that we can finally study the researched history on Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. Many times, much of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy is glorified and you never hear the other side – we can hear the entire narrative," he said.
According to Donahue, there will be an event to launch the exhibit on Friday, April 8, at 4:30 p.m. in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall, which will examine Wilson’s legacy on race. Following the launch event, there will be a reception in the Bernstein Gallery.
"I hope many students come to the event and ask questions of an amazing panel, which will look not only at Wilson but also at the issue of race during Wilson’s tenure as University and U.S. President," she said.