The Ivy League institution announced the decision to remove Wilson’s name from the school of public and international affairs and Wilson College on Saturday.
“The trustees concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,” Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a statement.
Wilson’s name has been controversial in the Princeton community for years. In 2016, the university Board of Trustees voted to keep Wilson’s name on the school despite protests from students. Eisgruber emphasized recent high-profile deaths of Black people as inspiration for the change of mind.
“The board reconsidered these conclusions this month as the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America,” he said.
Trump criticized the name change and took a shot at the Democrats in a tweet on Monday morning.
“Can anyone believe that Princeton just dropped the name of Woodrow Wilson from their highly respected policy center,” the president wrote. “Now the Do Nothing Democrats want to take off the name John Wayne from an airport. Incredible stupidity!”
During a Sunday appearance on the Fox News channel, Trump advised Black people to learn about “your history” instead of calling for the removal of monuments.
“My message is that we have a great country: We have the greatest country on earth,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade. “We have a heritage. We have a history and we should learn from the history. And if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again. You will go right back to it. You have to learn.”
Obama, a Princeton graduate, praised the decision and the students who led the renaming movement.
“Heartened to see my alma mater make this change, and even prouder of the students who’ve been advocating for this kind of change on campus for years,” the former first lady tweeted on Monday afternoon. “Let’s keep finding ways to be more inclusive to all students — at Princeton and at every school across the country.”
Wilson was president of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and before that he was president of Princeton from 1902 until 1910. While at Princeton, he prevented Black students from matriculating and tried to erase any memory of Black Princeton alums. Once he made it to the White House, he got rid of 15 out of 17 appointed Black officials and segregated federal workers. Wilson also screened the racist propaganda film “Birth of a Nation” at the White House.
“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time,” Eisgruber said in his statement. “He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.”
Wilson College, which will be called First College, was already scheduled to close after the construction of two new residential colleges was completed. The other school will now be known as The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.