Last week, as Princeton students organized to again petition the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from the school of public affairs, alumna and donor Kwanza Jones ’93 was also compelled to say something. On June 22, Jones penned an “open love letter” to Princeton about Wilson’s legacy.
“Princeton’s handling of the ‘Woodrow Wilson issue’ demonstrates a missed opportunity,” Jones wrote. “Instead of taking the lead like our neighboring Monmouth University, Princeton has remained silent. A direct line can be drawn from Woodrow Wilson to numerous racist beliefs, actions, policies, and practices. And, a direct line can be drawn from Woodrow Wilson to Princeton.”
Jones, CEO and co-founder of the SUPERCHARGED Initiative, a grantmaking and investment organization, sent the letter to President Eisgruber ’83 and Kevin Heaney, the University’s vice president for advancement. Her public stance is notable because last year Jones and her husband, José E. Feliciano ’94 who is co-founder of the SUPERCHARGED Initiative and a private investment firm, donated more than $20 million to the University. Their donation was the largest gift in the University’s history from underrepresented people of color.
After sending that email, Jones said she received a call from Eisgruber, who told her about the trustees’ decision to remove Wilson’s name. Jones said she could not speak to exactly what happened behind the scenes.
“When you’re thinking of being taken seriously at a place like Princeton, words matter," Jones said. “Actions matter equally as much and money matters. And why money matters is Princeton, like lots of nonprofit institutions, needs the funds. Yes there’s a large endowment, but you still need money coming in in order to operate, exist, advance, and thrive.”
Jones added, “As persons of color that contribute financially, and otherwise, to a place that historically has not always treated you well ... despite that, to still give, that is making a statement that José and I love Princeton, and want to make it better for all."
Jones, a Black woman, has recounted in blog posts how she faced moments of hate and discrimination on campus, both from fellow students during her time as an undergraduate, and as an alumna, when she was turned away from a donor event. While all people of color do not share the same story, she said, for many there is a common thread of racism among their experiences at Princeton.
What ultimately drove her to send the letter to Eisgruber and Heaney was the University’s “lack of action” in the wake of George Floyd’s death, she said. Statements were released, but they were missing concrete steps and actions, Jones said. What particularly disappointed her was the fact that this change was something students have been requesting for years. “This is not the Princeton of Woodrow Wilson’s time,” she added.
While she is glad the University has taken this step, Jones said more needs to be done. She noted that Eisgruber used the word “extraordinary” to describe the decision to remove Wilson’s name. “Removing a racist, former Princeton University and United States president’s name off a building, is that extraordinary?” Jones asked. “No that’s not extraordinary. That is absolutely necessary.”
When Jones sent her letter, she was unaware of the petition sent the same day organized by current students and recent graduates demanding changes at the public- affairs school. In addition to removing Wilson’s names, the demands include changing the core curriculum; hiring people of color for faculty positions; instituting a senior-thesis prize similar to the Toni Morrison Prize for work that has “pushed the boundaries and enlarged the scope of our understanding of issues of race”; and creating a committee to research reparations.
Jones said the changes demanded by the students are needed across Princeton, and she is waiting to see what other actions the University will take. “This is a victory for all of Princeton, even if some don’t think it’s a victory because they may not agree with the outcome,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, Princeton is better because of it.”