PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) — Princeton University, among several U.S. colleges re-examining its complicated racial legacy, announced Tuesday it will name two campus spaces for black ex-faculty members, including Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.
Morrison’s name will now grace West College, one of the oldest buildings on the Ivy League campus. The major auditorium inside the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will be named for Sir Arthur Lewis, another Nobel laureate who pioneered research in economic development. The new names take effect July 1.
The decision comes a year after Princeton declined to remove Wilson’s name from its public policy school in response to calls from black students that the ex-U.S. president was a segregationist. Students held a 32-hour sit-in inside the university president’s office and also demanded changes to make Princeton more diverse and inclusive.
The episode led to a monthslong period of reflection on a fuller examination of the legacy of Wilson, Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910. University leaders concluded that while his accomplishments merited recognition, Wilson’s faults must also be acknowledged.
Princeton Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee said the students’ activism prompted the university to act.
“It was a good thing to raise these questions, and the university did a good job of taking this set of issues seriously,” said Durkee, a member of the committee responsible for naming the building and auditorium.
Morrison was a member of Princeton’s creative writing program until she retired in 2006, and her papers are part of the permanent library collection. She is an important international figure who helped attract racially diverse students and faculty members to the arts community in Princeton, Durkee said.
Lewis served on the school’s faculty from 1963 to 1983. He died in 1991. “He was one of the first economists to study the economy of the developing world,” Durkee said. “He diversified the scholarly interests of the university in addition to the personnel representation.”
In recent months, racially motivated activism swept campuses across the country in the wake of protests at the University of Missouri in 2015. Since then, college leaders have moved to change mascots, building names, mottos and other symbols some have deemed offensive and outdated.
Also on Tuesday, Georgetown University hosted a ceremony in remembrance of enslaved blacks sold by Maryland Jesuits in 1838 to benefit the school. Georgetown also dedicated a campus building named for Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed in documents related to the sale.
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