Wilson College will remove a wall-size photograph of Woodrow Wilson from the Wilcox Dining Hall, according to an email sent by Wilson Head of College Eduardo Cadava April 27, in response to recent conversations about Wilson’s segregationist legacy.
“I recommend that the Wilson ‘mural’ be removed,” Cadava wrote. “Its size and prominence in the Wilcox Dining Hall has seemed to us—as it has to President Eisgruber as well—‘unduly celebratory’ and not in keeping with the spirit of Wilson College’s founding wish to have Princeton be a place that is truly diverse and inclusive, and one that embraces, respects, and values all its members.”
Cadava’s decision comes in the wake of protests last fall, including a 33-hour sit-in in Eisgruber’s office by students from the Black Justice League. They demanded that the University acknowledge Wilson’s legacy of racism and segregationist policies, remove his name from the Woodrow Wilson School and residential college, and enhance cultural competency training for faculty, among other demands.
Wilson College freshman Siddarth Anand expressed happiness that the mural would be removed. “Ultimately, these issues of renaming are important, but they’re symbolic starting steps to the larger issue of people caring about the marginalization of minorities on campus,” he said.
Lily Gellman, a Wilson College junior, said that “Woodrow Wilson still has an enormous presence on this campus, and it would be contrary to the values of Wilson College to keep up a mural that connotes the sort of deification of a polarizing figure that this one does.”
The photograph, which depicts Wilson smiling before throwing the opening pitch at a 1915 Washington Senators baseball game, will be taken down in the coming days, to be replaced by an image that “embodies the College’s unique history in relation to issues of inclusion and diversity,” according to Cadava’s email.
Some Wilson students, such as sophomore history major Isaac Piecuch, expressed reserved feelings about the mural’s removal. Wilson “was and is an important part of the University’s history,” Piecuch said. “Princeton as we know it would not exist without Wilson. Because of this, I think the mural should stay.” However, he also recognized that “Wilson was a bad guy in a lot of ways, and I think it’s important for everyone to recognize those flaws,” in particular the University. The decision to remove the mural was made in part to separate Wilson the man from Wilson the college, according to Cadava.
Still others feel that in light of the Board of Trustees’ decision earlier this month not to rename the Woodrow Wilson School, the mural removal does not go far enough. Wilson College sophomore and politics major Kabbas Azhar said that although he’s happy to see the mural gone, removing it “simply isn’t much of a statement” because of the mural’s negligible role in contrast to the Woodrow Wilson School. “It’s a conciliatory gesture that might be heartfelt,” Azhar said, “but ends up minimizing the arguments raised by students on campus about the environment of the University as a whole.”
For the record
The original version of this story was updated to reflect the context of Isaac Piecuch ’18’s comments about the Wilson mural.