In Response to: The New Look of Legacy

Brett Tomlinson’s very good and very appreciated article addressing renaming campus buildings and landmarks (“The New Look of Legacy,” December issue) has a side effect that I want to illuminate very briefly here.

The profound importance of Mellody Hobson ’91’s gift that led to Hobson College is not in question. It is also important to remember — or discover — that Wilson College in the ’70s featured leadership in student life by both Black faculty and Black students. Under leadership by these individuals, then called college masters and student chairpersons, Wilson College led many aspects of diversity and inclusion in student life, specifically as a vibrant alternative to the eating clubs and to what otherwise by default would be considered the general population residing on campus in conditions suspected to have been exclusive. Wilson College’s cultivated diversity and influence on students was outsized to its own population in both supportive and competitive ways, and it included important contact with the predominantly Black Witherspoon neighborhood as well, in town-gown relations across the street from campus.

The Hobson gift did not invalidate the importance that some of our past also belongs in the future. While we hail the tangible progress of ethical goal-seeking, let’s not inadvertently throw the baby out with the bathwater. People who lived in Wilson College in the ’70s were already actively changing what the name meant in real life. That, not generic political correctness, is the context of Wilson College’s history and therefore the legacy of Hobson College as well.

Malcolm Ryder ’76
Oakland, Calif.