In the aftermath of the Black Justice League’s protests last spring, the University has undertaken several initiatives to satisfy their demands. One of these initiatives was started at the Board of Trustees’ meeting on Sept. 26, 2016 when it launched the Committee on Naming. The Committee is charged with “naming 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.”
Currently, the Committee is accepting suggestions to name the atrium of Robertson Hall and to rename West College. While I approve of the former, I am against the latter. West College should keep its name for two reasons:
First, West College’s name ought to remain unchanged to save money and avoid unnecessary confusion. Altering a building’s name at the University is not as simple as waving a magic wand. If the Board of Trustees were to approve a new name, the University’s staff would have to correct all references to its old name.
There are a significant number of publications that would have to be changed, ranging from campus maps to University websites. Even the University’s smartphone app would need an update to accommodate the change. While amending all of this is feasible, it would require a great deal of time and money that could otherwise be spent on services that more directly benefit students.
It is also likely that there would be widespread confusion. The old name will probably continue to circulate through the vernacular of students and alumni in the years following the change. This could prove problematic for prospective applicants on campus tours or new students during orientation week when they ask for directions.
Second, the building’s name can already commemorate a historical figure who would add to campus diversity as well. I propose that it should be named “West College” for Dr. Cornel West GS ’80 instead of its geographic position in relation to Cannon Green.
West attended Harvard College as an undergraduate and was the first African American to graduate from Princeton with a Ph.D. in philosophy. He has taught at the University of Paris, Union Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Yale University, and most recently here at Princeton University.
Dr. West has been active in civil rights demonstrations across the country, such as the 2013 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. His book Race Matters altered the course of dialogue on race relations on a national level. In politics, Dr. West has aided several candidates in their presidential campaigns, including Barack Obama, and was a prominent member of several social movements, such as Occupy Wall Street.
At the University, Dr. West has distinguished himself as a professor, having received over twenty honorary degrees. He taught a number of courses in the religion and African American studies departments. In the fall semester, he taught a freshman seminar (FRS 195) that analyzed the legacies of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Along with Dr. Robert George, he has traveled to numerous universities to promote the value of a liberal arts education.
Leaving West College’s name unchanged would provide an opportunity to accomplish the Committee’s task of recognizing individuals who would bring a more diverse presence to the campus without having to spend much money. There are few noteworthy people, living or deceased, who have such close ties to the University and have contributed as much to societal progress as Dr. West. Although I do not know whether the Board of Trustees would approve of my proposal, I am certain that it would bring much-needed diversity to the campus’ iconography.
Liam O'Connor is a freshman from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.