Wilson’s genuine achievements, I thought, gave Princeton sound reasons to honor him. He is a far different figure than John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, people whose pro-slavery commitments defined their careers and who were sometimes honored for the purpose of supporting segregation or racism. Princeton honored Wilson without regard to, and perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.
And that, I now believe, is precisely the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored and turned a blind eye to racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against black people. When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him.
This searing moment in our national history should make clear to all of us our urgent responsibility to stand firmly against racism and for the integrity and value of black lives. That is why the Board of Trustees, on my recommendation, removed Wilson’s name from what will now be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.