The former first lady said she was "even prouder" of students who called for the change

By Sean Neumann
June 29, 2020 05:04 PM
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Former First Lady Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama

Former First Lady Michelle Obama said this week she was "heartened" by Princeton University's decision to remove former President Woodrow Wilson's name from a building because of what the school said was his “racist thinking and policies."

"Heartened to see my alma mater make this change, and even prouder of the students who’ve been advocating for this kind of change on campus for years," Obama, 56, tweeted Monday afternoon. "Let’s keep finding ways to be more inclusive to all students—at Princeton and at every school across the country."

Princeton's removal of Wilson's name from its public policy school and one of its colleges, Wilson College, came Saturday, according to The New York Times.

Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May — which sparked nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice — activists have sought to remove either portions or entire statues, state flags and other monuments and commemorations for figures who had offensive stances on race and equality.

Confederate statues have been removed in states across the country, such as Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to CNN.

Statues for controversial historical figures like former Vice President John C. Calhoun, who owned slaves, have also been taken down.

Princeton's president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said in a statement Saturday that the school's board of trustees found that President 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."

Wilson was Princeton's president from 1902 to 1910 before becoming the U.S. president in 1913.

"Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time," Eisgruber said. "He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today."

Monmouth University in New Jersey also said it will remove Wilson's name from its school's buildings, the Times reported.

The removal of statues and other commemorations around the country, including protesters' attempt to remove a statue of former President Andrew Jackson near the White House earlier this month, has angered President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump
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Robertson Hall building, within the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, which Princeton says it will rename.
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"Can anyone believe that Princeton just dropped the name of Woodrow Wilson from their highly respected policy center," Trump tweeted Monday morning. "Now the Do Nothing Democrats want to take off the name John Wayne from an airport. Incredible stupidity!"

The president previously called for "10 years in prison" for anyone who defaces or removes federal monuments dedicated for service in the armed forces, under the Veteran's Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003.

Princeton's announcement seems to have struck a particular chord with Obama, who graduated from the university in 1985 with a sociology degree.

“Princeton was extremely white and very male," she wrote in her 2018 memoir, Becoming, according to The Atlantic. "There was no avoiding the facts."

Michelle Obama in December 2018
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The former first lady went on to write that “even today, with white students continuing to outnumber students of color on college campuses, the burden of assimilation is put largely on the shoulders of minority students.”

Eisgruber, the university's president, said in his statement that the board of trustees revisited the use of Wilson's name on its campus after students wrote a letter asking the school to make the change on June 22.

The students had written: "The undergraduate students of Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs speak with one voice in solidarity with our Black classmates when we say: the time for change is now."