Woodrow Wilson portrait Frank Graham Cootes/Wikimedia Commons

Should We Honor Racists?

Last month, hundreds of students at Princeton University demanded that the university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Wilson College, one of its residential colleges, be renamed. Whether or not one agrees, the protesters have played an invaluable role in educating students and faculty.

PRINCETON – In the midst of my Practical Ethics class last month, several students stood up and walked out. They were joining hundreds of others in a protest led by the Black Justice League (BJL), one of many student groups that have emerged across the United States in response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, and subsequent police killings of unarmed African Americans.

Later that day, members of the BJL occupied the office of Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber, vowing not to leave until their demands were met. These demands included “cultural competency training” for both academic and non-academic staff; a requirement that students take classes on the history of marginalized people; and the provision of a “cultural affinity space” on campus dedicated specifically to African-American culture.

The demand that received national attention was for the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Wilson College, one of its residential colleges, to be renamed. The college dining hall features a large mural of Wilson, which the BJL also wants removed. Honoring Wilson, the League says, is offensive to African American students, because Wilson was a racist.

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