A student participant in the 2015 Black Justice League demonstrations on the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, sent University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 an email entitled “On Woodrow Wilson, Trump, and White Supremacy.” University trustees were copied on the message. The student wrote the letter in light of Yale President Peter Salovey's decision to change the name of Yale's Calhoun College, in response to controversy surrounding the college’s name.
The letter recalls the BJL-led sit-in of Eisgruber’s office in November, 2015 and the response of the University to the organization’s demands, one of which was “the removal of Woodrow Wilson iconography from Princeton University’s campus,” according to the letter.
Although the letter did not explicitly ask the University to reconsider Wilson’s legacy, it implied that the University's decision last fall not to change Wilson’s representation on campus iconography was a missed chance to show progressive leadership.
Asked whether the University will reconsider the Wilson legacy decision, Director of Media Relations John Cramer issued a statement noting that “Wilson’s legacy has been fully addressed by the trustees and will not be reopened.”
The student author praised Eisgruber in the letter for standing up against President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration, noting that the nation is in a wave of activism. However, the letter notes that “though this activism is noteworthy, it is important to remember how we got here in the first place. White supremacy is far from dead, and our collective refusal to dismantle systems of white supremacy has allowed for individuals such as Trump to thrive and to do so at the highest level.”
The letter also notes that Salovey changed his stance on Calhoun College's renaming drastically within the past year, just as the nation was experiencing “an increase in hate crimes and attacks towards Black people, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ people and the ‘awakening’ of the Ku Klux Klan.” Subsequently the letter notes in bold, black type that “Americans have now come to recognize what members of the Black Justice League knew when they occupied President Eisgruber’s office: America is not, in fact, ‘post-racial.’”
In conclusion, the letter’s author argues that the University has always been a follower, not a leader, in the field of social justice and equality and that the Wilson Legacy Review Committee’s decision not to remove Wilson’s name from campus iconography continued that pattern.
In a statement to the 'Prince,' the University stated that it will not be reconsidering the legacy of Wilson on campus iconography after it was addressed by the trustees last year. The University currently honors Wilson in the name of one of its residential colleges and in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
“Princeton's trustees issued a report that candidly acknowledged Wilson’s views and actions with regard to race, but also recognized Wilson’s many and transformative positive contributions to the University, the nation and the world. Wilson’s legacy on our campus and beyond is very different from Calhoun’s legacy in this country and at Yale, and that led to different outcomes in applying similar principles,” the press release states.
In response to last year’s campus activism, the University scrubbed the mural of Wilson from the dining hall of Wilson College and has also created an exhibit demonstrating a more nuanced perspective on Wilson’s legacy at Princeton. The press release indicates that the University will continue to carry out recommendations of the Wilson committee such as the launching of a website last month to “seek input from Princeton students, alumni, faculty and staff.”
Furthermore, other committees will continue “to diversify campus iconography and to suggest names for campus spaces — beginning with the atrium at the Wilson School and West College — that express the University’s enhanced commitment to diversity and inclusion,” according to the press release.