A group of Princeton students conducted a 33-hour sit-in Nov. 18-19 at the office of President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, presenting a set of demands related to racial justice that included the renaming of the Woodrow Wilson School and Wilson College. This page brings together news stories, commentary and analysis, and letters and comments from PAW readers.
Browse a forum of reader views, and join the conversation by posting a comment.
April 5, 2016
University Won’t Rename Wilson School or Wilson College
The University’s board of trustees has rejected a call by a student activist group to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson 1879 from the School of Public and International Affairs and one of Princeton’s residential colleges because of his views and actions on race. But the board said the University must be “honest and forthcoming” about its history and recognize Wilson’s “failings and shortcomings” as well as his achievements. READ MORE
March 11, 2016
Speaking Out on Wilson
Alumni, students, faculty, and staff had a chance to share their views in February with the Wilson Legacy Review Committee, a special committee of the University’s board of trustees set up to consider Woodrow Wilson 1879’s legacy and how the University should recognize it. READ MORE
Debate Result: Don’t Rename
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. READ MORE
Feb. 18, 2016
Wilson’s Legacy: Web Exclusive Letters
Read a new selection of Web Exclusive letters from PAW readers, posted with the March 2 issue. READ MORE
Jan. 29, 2016
Wilson Legacy Committee Shares Letters from Scholars
The University has released nine letters from scholars of Woodrow Wilson 1879 about the legacy of the former U.S. and Princeton president. The scholars were invited to contribute to the fact-gathering process of a special trustee committee considering whether the University should change how it recognizes Wilson, a demand of the Black Justice League (BJL), a student group, because of Wilson’s acknowledged racism. READ MORE
Wilson Revisited (From the Feb. 3 print issue)
“He built Princeton,” says James Axtell, retired professor of history at the College of William and Mary, who has written about Wilson’s educational legacy. “He put it on the path to becoming the university it is today.”
But the tumultuous events of last fall — a vocal advocacy campaign, a 33-hour student sit-in at the Nassau Hall office of President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83, and the establishment of a Board of Trustees committee charged with re-examining the ways Princeton commemorates Wilson — have highlighted a different aspect of his record, one that, although no secret to historians, is less familiar to the general public. Woodrow Wilson, activist Princeton president and eloquent leader of wartime America, also held repugnant racial views, strove to keep blacks out of the University, and presided over the segregation of the federal workforce. READ MORE
Jan. 14, 2016
Alumni and other members of the Princeton community interested in attending a small-group session with members of the Wilson Legacy Review Committee of the University trustees can sign up at wilsonlegacy.princeton.edu. Two sessions will be held on each of the following days: Jan. 28 and Feb. 18, 19, and 20.
“We are eager to hear from members of the University community in order to gather a broad range of perspectives on Wilson and his legacy, and on the more general question of how the University should think about and represent its broader historical legacy on campus,” said Brent Henry ’69, chair of the 10-person trustee committee.
Creation of the special trustee committee was announced following a 33-hour sit-in at President Eisgruber ’83’s Nassau Hall office by members of the Black Justice League, a student group, in November. Among the students’ demands was that the University remove the name of Woodrow Wilson 1879 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Wilson residential college.
Committee members will also be attending the Feb. 15 meeting of the CPUC at 4:30 p.m. in 101 Friend Center and in an open forum on the afternoon of Feb. 19. Details of the forum’s time and location were not immediately available.
Comments can also be submitted directly to the committee on the website.
Jan. 11, 2016
The Wilson Legacy, and What to Do About It
A new selection of Web Exclusive letters from PAW readers, along with letters published in the Jan. 13, 2016, issue. READ MORE
Jan. 8, 2016
Read PAW’s coverage of the sit-in and the conversations that have followed in our January 13, 2016, issue:
Occupying Nassau Hall: Sit-in sparks campus, national debates; Eisgruber agrees to address demands
A student sit-in Nov. 18 ended after 33 hours, but the issues it raised — relating to Princeton’s racial climate, the role of history, and the legacy of a man long seen as a Princeton hero — remained after the protesters walked out of Nassau Hall.READ MORE
Latino Students Call for Action
Latino students submitted a petition with more than 500 signatures to University administrators Nov. 23, calling for more Latino faculty and courses, a stronger presence for Latino students and alumni, and more support for undocumented students. READ MORE
Behind the Sit-In: Q&A: Esther Maddox ’17 and Asanni York ’17
PAW spoke with two leaders from the Black Justice League (BJL), a group of about 15 students that was formed in November 2014 with the goals of “standing in solidarity with Ferguson and dismantling racism on our campus.” READ MORE
Student Dispatch: Providing the World With an Inside View of the Nassau Hall Sit-In — in Real Time
After the doors of Nassau Hall were locked at 5 p.m. on Nov. 18, the first day of the sit-in by the Black Justice League, no more were allowed to enter President Eisgruber ’83’s office. Those who had left couldn’t return, and fewer than 20 students remained inside. But thanks to the University Press Club’s “live blog” — written by a member embedded with the protesters in 1 Nassau Hall — students, administrators, and the public could feel as if they also had a seat inside as the protest unfolded. READ MORE
Decades of Activism: A Protest Timeline
Generations of Princeton students have protested a wide range of issues: Here are some of them. READ MORE
President Eisgruber ’83 also addressed the sit-in in the Jan. 13 President’s Page:
What Is Happening on our Campuses?
Protests about racial justice have roiled campuses across America this fall, including at Princeton. Many alumni have asked me about the causes for this turmoil. READ MORE
Dec. 15, 2015
The Nassau Hall Sit-In and Woodrow Wilson 1879’s Legacy: Readers Respond
Read additional alumni letters and comments about the Nassau Hall sit-in and student demands related to racial justice, and share your views. READ MORE
At ‘Black Activism and Consciousness’ Teach-In, Students and Alumni Discuss Campus Issues
At a Dec. 12 teach-in on “Black Activism and Consciousness at Princeton,” students and faculty described the challenges of defining a black identity and discussing racial issues on campus. The event, sponsored by the Black Justice League (BJL), which organized the Nassau Hall sit-in, drew about 100 students and alumni. READ MORE
Dec. 8, 2015
Britney Winters ’09, in a piece written for vox.com, describes “What it’s like to be black at Princeton.”
Two alumni groups — the Association of Black Princeton Alumni and the Asian American Alumni Association — have released the following statements in response to the recent sit-in at Nassau Hall and issues raised by the student protesters:
The Board of Directors of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni (ABPA) stands together with the University community as it engages in the current conversations on issues of race and social justice. We are heartened by the activism of the black students on campus, and share many of their frustrations in light of our collective experience as black Princetonians and blacks in America. Past and present racial tensions on campus and across this country are a discouraging social reality. We urge our community to actively participate in a constructive dialogue that advances the causes of equality and respect. In light of the recent conferences for black alumni, the diversity of the University’s Board of Trustees, the establishment of the Department of African American studies, and the mobilization of the Connect Campaign, our community is poised, more than ever, to continue shifting the paradigm by working with our evolving University. We commit to helping hold the administration, its leadership and each other accountable to follow through with actions that achieve real progress. ABPA continues to strive to strengthen relationships within the black community and provide a platform to make the resources of black Princetonians more accessible to the University community. We welcome the enthusiasm and energy created by this dialogue and invite your engagement. ABPA is always willing to assist our students, President Eisgruber, and the broader community, in achieving a more welcoming, diverse and inclusive Princeton.
The Board of Governors of the Asian American Alumni Association of Princeton (A4P) stands with the Princeton University community as we grapple with our shared past and engage in a constructive conversation about issues of race and the student experience on campus. As Princeton University alumni of Asian descent, we recognize the challenges faced by many students of color on campus and the interplay of these experiences with our conflicted history and context as a nation. We appreciate the spirit of activism by students to improve the environment on campus. We hope that every member of the university community will take responsibility for making Princeton a welcoming place for all individuals. We acknowledge and applaud the efforts by President Eisgruber, his leadership team, and the Princeton University community in developing greater understanding and respect across races and cultures to enable Princeton to continue to improve and evolve as an institution.
We encourage our community to continue to engage in this dialogue about social justice and race in America, with open minds, so that we can continue to heal and build towards an environment that truly values diversity, upholds respect and relationships, and reflects the values that we share as a global community of Princetonians.
Dec. 7, 2015
More voices are added to the debate over student protesters’ call to rename the Woodrow Wilson School and Wilson College.
Princeton professors Joshua Guild and Julian Zelizer discuss "Woodrow Wilson and Renaming Our History” with Tom Ashbrook of WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate (audio file).
Brian Balogh and Peter Onuf, hosts of the public radio show Back Story With The American History Guys, explore “The Difficult History Behind Woodrow Wilson” on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Art Carey ’72 writes in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “In Reassessing Wilson, Don’t Forget the Good.”
Dec. 3, 2015
Two members of Princeton’s African American studies department took part in recent radio interviews about the Nassau Hall protest and the Woodrow Wilson renaming issue.
Associate professor Joshua Guild, in an interview with All Things Considered host Jami Floyd, said the sit-in had achieved “incredible progress” by ensuring that “the highest levels of University leadership are taking these issues seriously.”
In an interview with The Brian Lehrer Show, department chair Eddie Glaude *97spoke of the need to “confront the ugliness of our past.” He said he sees students who protest at Princeton and on other campuses as “claiming their universities as their own … and to the extent that’s true, they’re going to demand something of their institution so it can reflect them. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Dec. 2, 2015
“History matters,” Professor Martha Sandweiss, who teaches a seminar that for several years has investigated Princeton’s ties to slavery, writes in an essay in The Nation. “Unless we engage it, we cannot fully address the structural inequities that continue to mark American life.”
Historian John Milton Cooper Jr. ’61, author of the 2009 book Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, analyzes Wilson’s record on race in a PAW Online essay, saying that it “should never be excused, but neither should it be overblown or exaggerated.”
Professor emeritus John Fleming *63, a former head of Wilson College, issues a warning in his blog against “hasty historical vandalism” in seeking to rename the residential college.
Michael Hanchard *91, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, explains on The Huffington Post how the debate over Wilson’s record on race offers an important teaching moment “for a larger public — not just Ivy League students."
Ebony Slaughter ’15, in an Equal Voice essay, writes of her experience as an African American woman at Princeton and says that too often, responses to the recent wave of campus protests are missing an important element: “Behind the die-ins, sit-ins, and demonstrations is genuine pain and fear.”
Nov. 30, 2015
The Nassau Hall Sit-In and Woodrow Wilson 1879’s Legacy: Readers Respond
Read alumni letters about the Nassau Hall sit-in and student demands related to racial justice – including the renaming of the Woodrow Wilson School and Wilson College – and share your views. READ MORE
Nov. 25, 2015
In “The Case Against Woodrow Wilson at Princeton,” the editorial board of The New York Times writes that the “overwhelming weight of the evidence argues for rescinding the honor that the university bestowed decades ago on an unrepentant racist.”
Nov. 24, 2015
Students, Alumni Push for More Discussion on Issues of Race and Ethnicity
In the wake of the two-day sit-in at Nassau Hall last week by members of the Black Justice League, students, faculty, and alumni have publicly taken positions both for and against the group’s demands related to Princeton’s racial climate. At the same time, a group of Latino students has released a petition and report calling for greater support for and representation of the Latino community on campus. READ MORE
Also, a selection of what others have been writing about Woodrow Wilson 1879 and the controversy surrounding his legacy:
- Christine Emba ’10, The Washington Post, Nov. 22
- Andy Newman ’86, The New York Times, Nov. 22
- Josh Marshall ’91, Talking Points Memo, June 26 (published before recent protests)
- Corey Robin ’89, Salon, Nov. 20
- Jonathan Zimmerman, Politico, Nov. 23
- Bill Scher, RealClear Politics, Nov. 23
- Gordon J. Davis, The New York Times, Nov. 24
Nov. 20, 2015
Administration Reaches Agreement With Student Demonstrators
The #OccupyNassau campaign ended Thursday night, 33 hours after it began, with student protest leaders exiting President Eisgruber ’83’s office suite with a signed document that addressed their demands and contained a guarantee of amnesty from disciplinary action. READ MORE
Nov. 19, 2015
Update: Nassau Hall Sit-In
The student sit-in led by Princeton’s Black Justice League will begin its second day with a town-hall meeting at the Nassau Hall atrium at 9 a.m. Last night, students slept inside President Eisgruber ’83’s office while other supporters camped outside Nassau Hall. The protesters received visitors, including Rev. William Barber II, a national NAACP board member; Professor Eddie Glaude *97, chair of the African American Studies department; and Ruth Simmons, a University trustee, former Princeton provost, and president emerita of Brown University. READ MORE
Nov. 18, 2015
Princeton Students Sit In at Nassau Hall, Demanding Improvements to Experience of Black Students
Students began a sit-in in President Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s office today to support demands that include acknowledging the “racist legacy” of Woodrow Wilson 1879 and renaming the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College. The students are also seeking cultural competency training for all staff and faculty, required courses on the history of marginalized peoples, and a cultural space on campus specifically for black students. READ MORE