Rename the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at the University of Virginia

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The time has come for the University of Virginia to remove Woodrow Wilson's name from the Department of Politics. 


In light of Princeton University's Board of Trustees’ decision on Friday, June 26, 2020, to remove Woodrow Wilson's name from the university's School of Public and International Affairs and a residential college, it is time for the University of Virginia to do the same. Princeton’s Board of Trustees stated: “The trustees concluded that Woodrow Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,”


“It was a menace to society itself that the negroes should thus of a sudden be set free and left without tutelage or restraint."

“Negro rule under unscrupulous adventurers had been finally put an end to in the South, and the natural, inevitable ascendancy of the whites, the responsible class, established." (After Reconstruction)


These are quotes from Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, an attendee of UVA Law School, and namesake of the UVA Department of Politics.

Woodrow Wilson was racist even by the standards of his time. To start, Wilson was an adamant defender of the Ku Klux Klan, even going so far as to describe the organization as “men half outlawed, denied the suffrage, without hope of justice in the courts, who meant to take this means to make their will felt" in his book, A History of the American People. In fact, a quote from this same book even made it into the notorious Ku Klux Klan propaganda film, The Birth of a Nation. Wilson’s quote reads: “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation... until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.”


Continuing with The Birth of a Nation, then-President Wilson allowed the film to be screened in the White House, reportedly doing so because he wanted to “teach history with lightning.”


As president, Wilson resegregated many departments and offices in the federal government. The Treasury Department, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Navy Department, the Interior Department, the Marine Hospital, the War Department, and the Sewing and Printing Divisions of the Government Printing Office all experienced new instances and policies of workplace segregation under the Wilson administration.


The racist views and actions of Woodrow Wilson do not reflect the values and work of the University of Virginia’s Department of Politics. Additionally, the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics is one of only five named undergraduate programs. As an overwhelming majority of departments do not have such titles, there is little precedent for keeping Wilson’s name affixed to this program. The University could remove the name entirely, rebranding as the Department of Politics, or could search through the dozens of other influential alumni and friends of the University of Virginia that could serve as a namesake for the department.

Further reading:

https://www.princeton.edu/news/2020/06/27/president-eisgrubers-message-community-removal-woodrow-wilson-name-public-policy

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/27/i-opposed-taking-woodrow-wilsons-name-off-our-school-heres-why-i-changed-my-mind/

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/wilson-legacy-racism/417549/

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/11/20/9766896/woodrow-wilson-racist

https://rediscovering-black-history.blogs.archives.gov/2017/08/22/institutional-racism-in-woodrow-wilsons-america/