In a press release Tuesday, the University announced that it will rename West College and the major auditorium in Robertson Hall of the Wilson School in honor of University Professor Emerita Toni Morrison and Nobel Laureate and former University Professor Sir Arthur Lewis, respectively. The new names will take effect on July 1, 2017.
The University Board of Trustees approved the recommendations from the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming, composed of faculty, students, staff, and alumni. The committee was proposed in response to protests and student activism largely led by the Black Justice League, which has encouraged the University to be more welcoming to students of color, particularly black students on campus. The committee was established in September of last year.
West College, one of the most prominent buildings on campus, was originally a dormitory when first built in 1836. According to the press release, the present name of the auditorium, which is currently named for former University President Harold Dodds, GS Class of 1914, will be transferred to “the adjacent atrium that serves as the entryway into Robertson Hall.”
Morrison, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was the first African American to receive this award and, the press release notes, was instrumental in helping “to attract other faculty and students of color to Princeton.” Her books include “Song of Solomon,” “Beloved,” and “The Bluest Eye.” She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Additionally, her papers have recently been opened for research in the University library.
Lewis, who started working as a professor of public and international affairs in 1963 at the University, later worked as a professor of political economics, teaching economic development and economic history. In 1963, Lewis was knighted, and in 1979, he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work in economic development, particularly concerning developing countries. According to the press release, “[Lewis] remains the only person of African descent to win a Novel Prize in a field other than Literature or Peace.” Lewis also served as economic adviser to the government of Ghana after it achieved independence in 1957, and he has also consulted nations such as Trinidad and Tobago, the press release states.
The Committee on Naming solicited input from University community members in its decision. According to the press release, 210 people submitted suggestions related to renaming.
"I'm very proud that the committee undertook this outreach effort to try to hear from all of Princeton as a whole," said Devin Kilpatrick '19, who served on the committee. "I think that people made sure that every single one of the suggestions were considered, and [the committee] did research about people who were suggested they didn’t know."
Kilpatrick explained that from this outreach effort, the University now already has a list of names from which to look into for future naming initiatives. He said he thinks that there is a cohort of young individuals now who are just beginning their careers and will be great prospects for naming honorees in the future.
Chaired by history professor Angela Creager, the CPUC Naming Committee also includes Professors Stephen Macedo, Alejando Rodriguez, and Stacey Sinclair, and two undergraduate students, Devin Kilpatrick ’19 and USG president Myesha Jemison ’18. Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Romy Riddick, Osbourne Shaw ’97, and Vice President and Secretary of the University Robert Durkee ’69 are also committee members.
In November 2015, the BJL led a sit-in of the office President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 to push for a list of demands, including renaming the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College. Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, for whom these buildings are named, served as president of the University from 1902 to 1910, and he also was governor of New Jersey and President of the United States.
"I would just say this is an example of the administration responding to student requests and opening up dialogue about race and identity at Princeton," Kilpatrick said. "I hope it encourages student activists."
"I think the student pressure that happened last year, their voices were heard and that’s important for the administration," Aguirre added. "[The administration has] really let us know that they’re open to suggestions and to make the campus more inclusive."
During Wilson’s presidency, the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was approved, and federal agencies were re-segregated by race. The BJL emphasized his notable racism by placing posters around campus with quotes from the former university president about racial matters. Just as Wilson did in the White House, the BJL also screened the infamously racist film “Birth of a Nation” on campus.
Wilson’s words were also commemorated by the University in its unofficial motto, “In the Nation’s Service and in the Service of all Nations.” The University recently changed the motto to reflect the public service contributions of both Wilson and Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor ’76, so that the motto now reads, “In the Nation’s service and in the service of all humanity.” The University has also created an exhibit which details Wilson’s legacy, both in terms of public service and race. The exhibit, which was originally displayed in the basement of Robertson Hall, has been shown in several locations around campus, and it is currently on display in Forbes College.
University activism, including the work of the BJL, has taken place as part of a larger movement nationwide wherein university communities reassess their pasts, particularly their ties to racism and slavery. As part of this trend, Georgetown University, where 272 slaves were once sold in order to keep the institution afloat, decided to award preferential status in its admissions process to descendants of the enslaved in September 2016. Additionally, in February 2017, Yale University decided to rename Calhoun College, named for former U.S. Vice President and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun, for Grace Hopper, a computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral.
Aguirre said that the committee chair will come out with a full report of the committee's work May 1.