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Op-Ed: Colleges have a lot to answer for — beyond racists' names on their buildings

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08.07.2020

Princeton University’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, recently announced that Woodrow Wilson’s name will be removed from the university’s School of Public and International Affairs and from a residential college.

No new facts prompted the decision, which was a reversal from Eisgruber’s refusal just five years ago to remove Wilson’s name from the program and buildings. Wilson’s record as a racist and segregationist has long been widely known. He segregated federal civil services when he was president of the United States from 1913-21, after it had been desegregated for decades.

Even in January 1964, Princeton alumnus Charles Puttkammer argued, “Princeton must overcome a deeply ingrained reputation for discrimination going back to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and before.” As Eisgruber said in a statement, “Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time.”

American colleges and universities have a long history of reinforcing racist norms and social structures. Historian Craig Steven Wilder made this clear in explaining how many of the most well-endowed universities benefited from the institution of slavery. Yet college presidents have mostly resisted demands to remove racist names and symbols on their campuses. At Yale, for instance, decades passed before the 2017 decision to remove from a residential college the name of John C. Calhoun, who defended slavery as a “positive good.”

But the last month brought broader societal demands for racial........

© Los Angeles Times


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