Princeton students want to scrub Woodrow Wilson's name from campus

Princeton students have demanded the removal of all references to former US president Woodrow Wilson on campus, alleging he was a racist. 

Students from the Black Justice League organised a protest Wednesday, drawing nearly 200 students outside the building holding President Christopher Eisgruber’s office, reported the Daily Princetonian.

The student protesters began chanting, “We here. We been here. We ain’t leaving,” and moved into the building, commencing a weeklong sit-in at the foot of Eisgruber’s office, the Daily Princetonian wrote. 

The students’ demands echo similar movements at other schools. They want mandatory cultural competence training for all faculty and staff, a diversity requirement for staff members, and a space on campus explicitly for black students. They also demand that former president Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from the Wilson School of Public Policy and Wilson College, and that his racist legacy be acknowledged, according to the Daily Princetonian.

As of Wednesday, Eisgruber said he would not meet the demands.

The protests are ongoing, as students have set up camp inside Nassau hall and vow to stay until their demands are met. As of Thursday afternoon, Eisgruber hadn’t been to his office and hasn’t made any further public statements. 

“Having to walk by buildings that (have Wilson’s name), having to walk by his mural, having to live in residential colleges that didn’t want our presence on campus, that’s marginalizing,” junior Asanni York told CBS. “People are hurt by that.”

Other students involved in the sit-in created posters describing why they are involved in the protest. 

 

Wilson, who was Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910, also served as the 28th president of the US.

Born in Virginia, and coming of age during the Confederacy, Wilson was a traditional southern Democrat. While many of his policies were liberal, Wilson and his staff fought to re-segregate the federal government, making it difficult for black employees to secure senior government positions, according to the Washington Post.

Even more egregious, Wilson’s scholarly writings served as the basis for the now-infamous silent film “Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Wilson loved the film so much that he held private screenings in the White House, noted the Washington Post.

Wilson even went as far as telling Monroe Trotter, a prominent black activist at the time, that “…segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”

The protest at Princeton comes on the heels of a wave of activism at colleges across the US, where students have banded together against racism on campus. 

The student protests began at University of Missouri with the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement that successfully demanded the resignation of President Tim Wolfe over what students saw as the administration’s inaction over a series of racist occurrences. The protests quickly spilled over to schools in the Northeast, like Yale, where the debate over offensive Halloween attire catalyzed a larger discussion about how marginalized many black, Latino, and other students of colour feel on campus.

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