Campus roadway to be named after Rivers ’53, one of the first African American U. undergraduates| Apr 17, 2019
The University will name the roadway between Firestone Library and the Andlinger Center for the Humanities after alumnus and Princeton native Robert J. Rivers ’53, one of the first black undergraduates admitted to the University.
The Council of the Princeton University Community’s (CPUC) Committee on Naming recommended the name "Rivers Way" to the Board of Trustees. In its recommendation, the committee said that the name had a double meaning, honoring Rivers while encouraging campus visitors to live their lives “River’s Way.”
Rivers, a retired professor of clinical surgery and associate dean for minority affairs at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, studied biology as an undergraduate before attending Harvard Medical School and serving in the Navy. He became the University’s first black trustee in 1969 and received a “Doctor of Humanities” honorary degree from the University in 2016.
“He is a true Princeton pioneer,” his honorary citation reads. “[H]e paved the way toward a University increasingly committed to diversity and inclusion, and he did it with dignity, grace, integrity and a lifelong devotion to this University’s highest values.”
A longtime resident of Princeton, Rivers and his family also have close ties to the University and local community.
According to his honorary citation, Rivers’ grandfather planted the first elms on Washington Road, his father worked at Tiger Inn as a dormitory janitor, and his mother cared for a professor’s family. His three sons also attended the University.
This is the first time that the Committee has named a University structure after an alumnus, as previous namings have mainly honored faculty or individuals related to the University in other ways.
Last year, the University named a garden for former slave Betsey Stockton, a founder of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church and the first school in Princeton for children of color, and an arch for Jimmy Johnson, who worked as a janitor and vendor on campus, according to the University’s website.
Committee chair and History of Science professor Angela Creager said that the Committee sees Rivers as an exemplary model for students and for the community.
“These are the kinds of people whose lives are worth following,” she said. “This is a source of inspiration for how we should be living, the sights that we should set on what we can achieve and who we can serve … he just seemed to us someone who embodied that notion of service.”
Creager noted that people enter campus from the town of Princeton.
“We kind of were having that in mind when we were looking at names … that it would be nice to get a name that would signify, once again, the connections between the community of Princeton and the University,” she said.
“We always try to think about space, and what the possible names would bring to that space and the campus at large, and he just seemed like a really excellent [fit,]” Creager explained.
Rivers will also be featured along with 10 other people in newly commissioned portraits of “alumni and former faculty and administrators to reflect the diversity of the University community,” according to the University website. Other portrait subjects will include Toni Morrison, Sonia Sotomayor, and Alan Turing.
This is the Committee’s final naming project of this year. They will be receiving naming requests this fall and will make naming recommendations next spring.