A Whig-Clio debate gave students the chance to match arguments about whether to rename the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in light of Wilson’s “controversial legacy” — his documented racism. After an often-passionate 90-minute debate, students voted against renaming the school by a narrow margin.
More than 100 students attended the Feb. 24 debate, which was opened and closed by Whig-Clio speakers appointed to represent each side. All attending were allowed to voice their opinions in brief floor speeches; more than 25 did so, with some lighthearted comments but most points seriously argued. The final vote was 37–33, with many others abstaining.
Whig speakers Maya Aronoff ’19 and Shea Minter ’19 argued that the Woodrow Wilson School should be renamed because students feel “violated” concentrating in a major named after Wilson, not just studying in a building named after him. “They feel [the name] will follow them in their livelihood for the rest of their lives,” Minter said.
Clio speakers Josh Freeman ’18 and Theodore Furchtgott ’18 took the opposite position, saying that Wilson’s legacy should be evaluated holistically and that “nobody we honor is going to have a perfect past.” Otherwise, Furchtgott said, “we are setting up a situation where we can’t debate ... because all that it takes to win the debate is for a small number of people to say they feel offended.”
In a floor speech, Evan Draim ’16 contended that the University’s purpose in honoring historical figures is to memorialize their contributions to society. Removing Wilson’s name because of one negative aspect of his character would be a disservice to his accomplishments, Draim said.
Other students spoke against a suggestion to install a plaque to address Wilson’s racism, saying that the Woodrow Wilson School was named to honor his accomplishments in the field of public policy and international relations.