Why Princeton students want Ivy to dump Woodrow Wilson name, portraits

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Princeton University student protests, 1995 vs. 2015.

Princeton University will consider expunging former United States President Woodrow Wilson’s name from facilities and school programs after signing a deal with student demonstrators who feel he has a racist legacy. This Wednesday, a group of Princeton students stormed the offices of president Christopher Eisgruber to demand that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from all programs and buildings at the university.The recent protests by college students across the country are mostly about racial insensitivity and charges of discrimination and mistreatment on campuses today.

At Princeton University, the archaic term “master” has been retired and will no longer be sanctioned by the school to refer to leaders of its residential colleges.PRINCETON, N.J. – Princeton University has reached an agreement with students protesting inside the president’s office, ending a nearly two-day sit-in. Student demonstrators and top administrators at New Jersey’s prestigious Ivy League school solidified the agreement after members of the Black Justice League student organization staged a 32-hour sit-in outside Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber’s office. Princeton has an entire school — the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs — named after Wilson, who served as university president from 1902 to 1910, before his time in the White House.

Some of these objections are more valid than others, but even the worthy ones raise difficult questions for institutions that revere tradition but also have obligations to the current generation of students. It’s pretty different from what happened 20 years ago, when Princeton students also took over the university president’s office with a list of demands. So far, the university is standing firm, insisting that, in the AP’s words, “it is important to weigh Wilson’s racism, and how bad it was, with the contributions he made to the nation.” And outside of Princeton, the incident is being seized upon as yet another example of campus PC run amok: Leaving aside the broader question of whether Wilson’s name should be removed, let’s be clear on one thing: Woodrow Wilson was, in fact, a racist pig. Dean of the College Jill Dolan said the title “heads of college” better captures “the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life.” Maybe so, but the name change also was a response to a concern, also voiced at Yale, that the term “master” is racially offensive because it could be associated with slavery. The university says it will consider the removal of a mural of Wilson, initiate conversations about Wilson’s legacy on campus and enhance cultural competency training for staff, among other aspects of the agreement.

The 1995 protest began in a similar way: A little past 11 a.m. yesterday, 17 Princeton University students strode purposefully into Nassau Hall to the president’s outer office, pushed aside a secretary, plopped down, and started singing and chanting. He was a racist by current standards, and he was a racist by the standards of the 1910s, a period widely acknowledged by historians as the “nadir” of post-Civil War race relations in the United States. Easily the worst part of Wilson’s record as president was his overseeing of the re-segregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been been surprisingly integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” at the White House; he also segregated soldiers by race during World War I, though he broke with his own prejudices long enough to pay black and white soldiers the same miserable salary.

Wilson offered no objection to Burleson’s plan for segregation, saying that he “wished the matter adjusted in a way to make the least friction.” Both Burleson and Treasury Secretary William McAdoo took Wilson’s comments as authorization to segregate. While in office, Wilson organized a private screening of the film “Birth of a Nation,” which was widely criticized by the NAACP at the time and later became a recruiting tool for the Klu Klux Klan. It’s certainly understandable that African American students would feel uncomfortable residing in a college named for Calhoun, who is best known for championing the slaveholding Southern states. As Boston University Professor William Keyler noted in a 2013 article on the university website: With quotations from Wilson’s scholarly writings in its subtitles, the silent film denounced the Reconstruction period in the South when blacks briefly held elective office in several states.

DuBois — who had supported Wilson in the 1912 election before being disenchanted by his segregation policies — wrote of “one colored clerk who could not actually be segregated on account of the nature of his work [and who] consequently had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions of many years.” That’s right: black people who couldn’t, logistically, be segregated were put in literal cages. The wave of campus protests that began with the University of Missouri and resulted in the resignation of the president and chancellor earlier this month was echoed at Claremont McKenna College where the dean of students stepped down for having written something innocuous, but mistaken for evidence of racist intent, in an email. Again, from the Daily Princetonian: Eisgruber explained that he had an hour-long discussion with the student protesters about their demands and the current racial climate at the University.

He described the conversation as very engaged, adding that it was very important for him to hear exactly what their concerns were and why they had chosen to act in this way. “I think that it is harder to be a black student on our campus than it is to be a white student. While there have been appalling examples of intolerance for free speech by students who clearly don’t understand the concept (we’re looking at you, Mizzou), most of the protests reflect a refreshing skepticism and impatience with the status quo. The complaints about “political correctness run amok” at these schools comes from the same folks who complain about any kind of protest that threatens to disrupt the way things are.

The request for a space specific to black students is reasonable and desirable, Eisgruber said, adding that he and his colleagues will work on creating such a location on campus as quickly as possible. “We have to figure out what’s feasible and we have to recognize if we do that, we can’t do this for black students and not also do it for, for example, students from Latinx, who are also very interested in having a dedicated space,” he explained. Your manner offends me … Your tone, with its background of passion.” It’s worth stressing that Wilson’s policies here were racist even for his time. On Thursday afternoon, the university administration met again with the protesters (who were still in the president’s office) and negotiated with them for two hours.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had been much better about appointing black statesmen to public office, and other political figures, including whites, attacked Wilson’s moves toward segregation. The signed agreement includes one of the last important demands of the protesters, that they be given complete amnesty for violating university rules in the course of the protest. Rogers of Massachusetts introduced resolutions urging investigation of treatment of Negro employees in the Treasury and Post Office Departments,” historian Nancy Weiss writes, “but both measures died on committee calendars without gaining so much as a hearing.” Wilson’s racism even extended to foreign affairs.

It brought to mind this old quote by Woodrow Wilson: “Segregation is not a humiliation, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” Wilson did not approve of socializing between the races, so he couldn’t help “white-splaining” to black civil rights leaders why a separate, but equal military made sense. While 11 out of 17 members at the meeting considering the amendment favored it, Wilson, who was presiding, arbitrarily decided that the amendment had been defeated because the vote wasn’t unanimous. This wasn’t an actual rule that the proceedings were operating under; a simple majority vote was enough to decide that the League of Nations would be headquartered in Geneva. Wilson just really didn’t want the treaty to recognize racial equality, and wanted to appease the British empire, which was premised on subjugating African and South Asian people.

This promise was verbalized by VP Calhoun. *BJL members will be involved in a working group with the staff of the Residential Colleges to begin discussions on the viability of the formation of Affinity Housing for those interested in black culture. Southern racists, accordingly, rejoiced his election. “Washington was flooded with revelers from the Old Confederacy, whose people had long dreamed of a return to the glory days of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, when southern gentlemen ran the country,” Keylor writes. “Rebel yells and the strains of ‘Dixie’ reverberated throughout the city.” Wilson himself was the descendent of Confederate soldiers, and identified deeply with the “Lost Cause” narrative, according to which the Confederacy was a government of noble men trying to preserve a decent agrarian way of life against crude Northern industrialists, rather than a separatist movement premised on white supremacy. Dean Gonzalez will work with the BJL to invite two members to attend the meeting on December 8th to discuss with the General Education Task Force the possibility of a diversity requirement. On the final demand concerning amnesty from disciplinary action for those who remained in President Eisgruber’s office overnight on November 18th, 2015. *No formal disciplinary action has been nor will be initiated if students peacefully leave President Eisgruber’s office tonight. In a statement posted on the university’s Web site, Eisgruber thanked the protesters: “We appreciate the willingness of the students to work with us to find a way forward for them, for us and for our community.” Maybe what happened at Princeton isn’t representative of a shift in student demands and university responses over the past 20 years.

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