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Major gift from Mellody Hobson ’91 will establish new residential college on the site of First College

Hobson College will be the first residential college named for a Black woman

<h6>Courtesy of Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy</h6>
Courtesy of Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy

A gift from Mellody Hobson ’91 will establish a new residential college — the first at the University to be named for a Black woman. The University did not disclose the amount of Hobson’s gift.

Hobson College, scheduled to be completed by 2026 and to open for the Class of 2030, will be built on the site of First College, formerly known as Wilson College.

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“I’m most excited about the fact that we — meaning Black and brown communities — will have representation on campus in a meaningful way,” Hobson said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. “I want to rewrite the narrative.”

Hobson is the president and Co-CEO of Ariel Investments, the country’s first minority-owned asset management firm, and the former chairwoman of DreamWorks Animation. In 2017, she became the first Black woman to lead The Economic Club of Chicago.

“No one from my family had graduated from college when I arrived at Princeton from Chicago,” Hobson said in the announcement of the new residential college. “My hope is that my name will remind future generations of students — especially those who are Black and brown and the ‘firsts’ in their families — that they too belong. Renaming Wilson College is my very personal way of letting them know that our past does not have to be our future.”

Hobson’s gift follows the historic $20 million donation that Kwanza Jones ’93 and Jose E. Feliciano ’94 recently gave to the University — until then, the largest gift by Black and Latino alumni in the University’s 274-year history. Their donation will sponsor the building of two new dormitories in either Perelman College or a yet-unnamed residential college.

“This extraordinary gift will be transformative for Princeton,” President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 said in the announcement. “It will enable us to improve the student experience at Princeton and to reimagine a central part of our campus, while also recognizing a remarkable woman who is a positive, powerful force for change in the world.”

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Hobson, a member of the Class of 1991, concentrated in the Princeton School of Public & International Affairs — then known as the Woodrow Wilson School. The school, named for Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, was renamed in June, after the University’s Trustees “concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms.”

Hobson also received the Woodrow Wilson Award in 2019, an honor “conferred annually upon an alumnus or alumna of the undergraduate college whose achievements exemplify Woodrow Wilson’s memorable phrase ‘Princeton in the nation’s service,’” according to the Alumni Association’s website. She is the Wilson Award’s second African American recipient. 

“When I gave my speech [for] the Woodrow Wilson Award, I actually made reference that I was struggling with the idea that I was receiving this Princeton honor named for someone who wouldn’t have wanted me to be at the University,” Hobson told the ‘Prince.’ “I made a joke about it; I said that President Wilson didn’t believe that orange belonged with black. But it really did start the conversation for me.”

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Hobson is nationally recognized for her work at Ariel, particularly alongside founder John Rogers ’80 — the first African American alum to receive the Wilson Award. In interviews with The Daily Princetonian last spring, both Hobson and Rogers urged the Princeton University Investment Company, which oversees the University’s $26.1 billion endowment, to adopt more transparency in reporting the diversity of its asset managers.

The opening of Hobson College will follow the opening of Perelman College and a yet-unnamed residential college, both currently under construction.

Head of First College AnneMarie Luijendijk wrote to the First College community on Thursday morning, saying that the college will “move permanently” to the site of the two new Poe Field colleges upon their completion. This change will affect students beginning with the Class of 2023, who will be seniors in the fall of 2022.

“We look forward to sharing with you more details about the move as they become available,” Luijendijk wrote.

Editor’s Note: As of Tuesday, Oct. 13, this piece was updated to note that the University did not disclose the amount of Hobson’s gift.

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