Five years ago, the Black Justice League (BJL) and Black Student Union organized a 33-hour sit-in of Nassau Hall to protest the University’s ongoing celebration of Woodrow Wilson. Last month, drawing upon the BJL’s efforts, Change WWS Now circulated a letter and list of demands. Later that week, Wilson’s name was finally stripped from the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) and the residential college now known as First College.
President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 has ignored this persistent activism, most pointedly in a recent Washington Post op-ed, entitled “I opposed taking Woodrow Wilson’s name off our school. Here’s why I changed my mind.”
Not only does he unduly credit himself for the new decision, but Eisgruber does not even mention by name the Black Justice League’s sit-in as the catalyst for the University’s examination of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. He fails to recount and apologize for the threats of disciplinary action the students faced following their protest.
Eisgruber’s op-ed is a stark example of the University’s past and present unwillingness to engage with student activists, a pattern we fear will continue. In light of the symbolic yet long-overdue renaming, this Board calls on the University to further reckon with and address its institutional racism and hopes the administration will do so by following the lead of the student activists who they so often ignore.
This Board urges the University to act on the deliberate demands of the Black Justice League, the organizers of Change WWS Now, and other coalitions. Proposals to diversify the faculty; implement anti-racist curricula; divest from local police departments, private prisons, and fossil fuels; and support reparation efforts are at the University’s disposal.
Bearing in mind this obligation, we expect the administration to heed the voices of the hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, and faculty, who have fought and continue to fight for a more just University.
We wish to use our platform to spotlight activists’ plans, not our own. The Board does not pretend to offer all the solutions for how the University can combat racism on and off campus. In 2015, The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board endorsed keeping Woodrow Wilson’s name on the residential college and SPIA. Over a century ago, Wilson himself chaired the Board. Even though the current Board rejects Wilson’s white supremacy, we are still shaped by it.
Adopting anti-racist policies is the only way to begin to erode the systemic inequality reflected in this Board and the University’s histories. We urge the administration to defer to the students who have laid bare what it previously refused to acknowledge.
Since re-naming the SPIA, the University has not taken any material actions to combat systemic racism — beyond creating committees. Time and again, the administration has used its own bureaucratic hurdles to silence student activists’ demands, exclude them from decision making processes, and out-wait them by remaining complacent and slow-moving. As MPA student Abyssinia Lissanu ’16 GS said so well, “we’re tired of committees.”
We demand the administration take material steps to ensure the renaming is the first step of many to address its racist institutional history. Rather than nod to activists with performative gestures, this Board charges the University to involve students in decision-making processes and implement policies to combat racism.
Without shining a floodlight on systems of oppression and dismantling them, this institution — and its students — are just as liable to perpetuate racism at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs as they were at the Woodrow Wilson School.
144TH EDITORIAL BOARD
Zachariah W. Sippy ’22
Benjamin Ball ’21
Shannon E. Chaffers ’22
Rachel Kennedy ’21
Kate Lee ’23
Madeleine Marr ’21
Jonathan A. Ort ’21
Elizabeth Parker ’21
Emma Treadway ’22
Ivy Truong ’21
Cy Watsky ’21