By Philip Sean Curran
Author Toni Morrison has a building at Princeton University named after her, the university announced Tuesday in honoring a past winner of the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes who also taught at Princeton.
West College, a 19th-century-building located in the main campus, will become Morrison Hall starting July 1. The building had taken its “West” name not after a person, but rather because it is located to the west of Cannon Green, an area behind Nassau Hall where a cannon is buried nose first in the ground, according to the university.
The university also announced that a lecture hall at its public policy school will be named for the late Nobel prize winning economist Arthur Lewis, who taught at the university starting in the 1960s. He died in 1991.
Arthur Lewis Auditorium will replace Dodds Auditorium, named for the the 15th university president Harold Willis Dodds, who ran Nassau Hall from 1933 to 1957. The name change also takes effect July 1, with the atrium at the school named for Dodds.
In both cases, the university sought to recognize black scholars at an Ivy League school that had recently wrestled with the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, the former university and US president. A student group, the Black Justice League, in November 2015, took over Nassau Hall and demanded that Wilson’s name be taken off the university’s public policy school and other campus buildings, given his racist views toward blacks.
The university declined to remove Wilson’s name from the school, but last year took down a large photo of him that had hung in the dining room of a dormitory, Wilson College. The university also changed the titles for the faculty members who lead the six residential colleges, from “master” to “head,” to do away with what Nassau Hall called “antiquated terminology” that had made some people feel uncomfortable.
Other universities have similarly wrestled with their past and how they have recognized flawed characters. For instance, Yale University earlier this year announced it was dropping former U.S. Vice President and Yale alumnus John C. Calhoun’s name off one of its residential colleges. The university described Calhoun as a “white supremacist” who promoted slavery.
For its part, Princeton was silent on the Wilson controversy from two years ago, only that the name changes to honor Morrison and Lewis grew out of a naming committee formed last year to advise university officials about naming “buildings or other spaces not already named for historical figures or donors to recognize individuals who would bring a more diverse presence to the campus.”
“By taking these steps we begin to recognize more completely the extraordinary range of individuals and groups that have made this University what it is today, and to inscribe upon the fabric of our campus a fuller account not only of Princeton’s history, but also of the commitments to both excellence and inclusivity that must guide our aspirations for the future,” university president Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a news release announcing the changes.