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Princeton University to remove ex-president Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus building

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Princeton University have voted to remove the name of former US President Woodrow Wilson from a campus building due to his views on race.

The decision follows swathes of protests across the US, sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

It is also an outright reversal of a decision made by the Ivy League university in New Jersey four years ago to keep Wilson’s name.

As the 28th President of the US, who governed from 1913 to 1931, he helped establish the League of Nations – a forerunner of the United Nations – but also supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies, which weren’t racially divided up to that point.

Princeton University students walk through an exhibit titled, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in Princeton. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In addition, Wilson barred black students from Princeton while serving as university president, and spoke approvingly of the Ku Klux Klan.

University president Christopher Eisgruber said in a letter to the school community that the board of trustees had concluded that “Wilson’s racist views and policies make him an inappropriate namesake” for Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs and the residential college.

Student protests at Princeton in November 2015 called attention to Wilson’s racism, and an ad hoc committee was formed to study Wilson’s legacy at Princeton.

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Mr Eisgruber said the trustees decided in April 2016 on some changes to make the university “more inclusive and more honest about its history” but decided to retain Wilson’s name, but revisited the issue in light of the recent killings of Mr Floyd and others.

The name of the school will now be changed to the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Mr Eisgruber said the conclusions “may seem harsh to some”, as Wilson is credited with having “remade Princeton, converting it from a sleepy college into a great research university”, and he went on to become president and receive a Nobel Prize.

However, he said Princeton had honoured President Wilson “not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism”.

President Woodrow Wilson (Getty Images)

He explained: “That, however, is ultimately the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against black people.”

Mr Eisgruber added that the former president’s segregationist policies “make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school”.

Similarly, earlier this month, Monmouth University in New Jersey removed Wilson’s name from one of its most prominent buildings, in efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness.

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The superintendent of the Camden school district also announced plans to rename Woodrow Wilson High School.

On Saturday, the lower house of Mississippi state congress passed a resolution that could remove the Confederate emblem – now viewed by many as a racist symbol – from the state flag.

Mississippi’s Republican Governor Tate Reeves tweeted that he would sign a bill to change the current flag if the legislation was approved, saying arguments over the 1894 emblem had become as divisive as the flag itself.

The measure now moves to a Senate committee before going to the chamber.

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