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Q&A with Head of Wilson College

This is Eduardo Cadava’s last year as Head of Wilson College before he takes a sabbatical year. Although he will be returning in fall 2018, Street interviewed Cadava and asked him to reflect on his 27 years at the University as he prepares to step down from his position.

In addition to being the Head of Wilson College, Cadava is a professor in the Department of English.


The Daily Princetonian: What has being the Head of Wilson College meant to you?

Eduardo Cadava: My nearly eight years at Wilson have been among the happiest of my 27 years at Princeton. It has given me the opportunity to meet students from across campus — from all disciplines and departments — outside of the classroom, either in my home or at the college. I believe that Princeton’s students are among its most remarkable resources. It’s been wonderful to be able to have conversations with students, faculty fellows, and staff about what matters most to them and to me, and I’ve learned a great deal from each of these very singular interactions.

DP: What experiences have most characterized your time at this position and at Princeton?

EC: One of the things I’ve particularly loved about the position is that the world it permits me to inhabit is much larger than the one I inhabit simply as a faculty member, and it has allowed me to imagine how we can best make the place where students live be a place where they also continue to learn — not only through the various events we organize but also through the various relationships they establish as part of this community. I’ve enjoyed seeing what all of us have been able to create together and, now that I’m stepping down from the position, I have to confess that I will miss this rather wonderful set of collaborations.

DP: You inaugurated the Wilson College Signature Lecture Series several years ago — tell us more about the series and what you hope to achieve by it.

EC: I have to say that of all the things I have done at Wilson College, I am perhaps most proud of this series, not only because of its success, but also because of its origin in my admiration of the College’s origins. First of all, it is the only college founded by students, and as part of a stance against elitism and exclusion. This gives the College a distinctive history of what I have called “expansive inclusiveness,” one that is absolutely relevant to all the discussions that have taken place on our campus over the last couple of years, and especially in relation to the contested legacies of Woodrow Wilson. For me, the history of Wilson College is more closely linked to its founding act of social justice and to the community of students that live in it than to the name of any single person, and it has been my great privilege to be able to continue its historical commitment to social justice.


Indeed, what I have always loved about the history of Wilson is that it’s a story about student agency — about the way in which students can transform the landscape of Princeton. This is why, in 2010, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the New Quad and Wilcox Hall, I held a celebration in honor of this early history and I invited three alums who were most actively involved in founding and expanding the Wilson Society to come to talk to our students about why they had done what they did. At the same time, I inaugurated the Signature Lecture Series. Every event in the series features a speaker or performer — including Cornel West, Toni Morrison, the Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno, and many more — whose work aims to create a more open, just, and diverse community. I do believe that it has become a kind of signature of the college and, as I said, I’ve very proud of it.

DP: Are there any lingering events or other things you still want to do as Head?

EC: I’m actually finalizing the details of the closing events of the Series. I will be bringing back several of the speakers and performers who have participated in the Series, from journalists to human rights photographers, from dancers to literary theorists, and from foreign government members to opera directors, to mark the closing of the series and my tenure as the Head of the College in a celebratory manner. I hope that everyone will come out to enjoy everything these wonderful events will have to offer us!

DP: What are you hoping to do next?

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EC: I will have my first sabbatical year in ten years, so I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done this coming year. I plan to spend much of the year in Greece, finishing a collection of essays on art and photography called Paper Graveyards and a book on the photographer Fazal Sheikh called Erasures. I also have several catalog essays for photographic exhibitions in Barcelona and Paris that I’m hoping to finish before the end of the summer. I, of course, will remain in contact with students and friends here, and I will look forward to my return in the fall of 2018, and to the next chapters of my life at Princeton, all of which I trust will be as gratifying and exciting as the years I’ve been fortunate enough to have here.