I can see no reason to doubt that President Eisgruber ’83 and his advisers thought long and hard about the decision to disassociate Woodrow Wilson’s name from Princeton (On the Campus, September issue). That Wilson’s blatant racism was unimportant to decision-makers at the University generations ago should not bind us to their judgment now. As we recognize how fragile our democracy has become, we must be vigilant in our care for the rights of all citizens.
Paying respectful attention to every American translates not to dismissing the aspirations of some as “current fashion” or “social trends” but listening to what others have to say and taking them seriously. I learned this while working in an experimental division of my college, a white teacher with Black — and only Black — students. Forced to listen, I learned lessons I had previously denied myself. It was humbling and, I like to think, broadening.
When I arrived at Princeton in 1952, I found the University’s enchantment with tradition strange and intimidating. But in the classroom my ideas, even if immature or poorly stated, got an audience, and that truly mattered. Princeton has changed in many positive ways since then, as indeed it was altered — by Wilson as much as anyone — in important ways since my grandfather was in the Seminary at the turn of the 20th century. If it is now more responsive to its students, that is a sign of its strength as a democratic institution. That ought to be a cause for optimism among its alumni.