Johns Hopkins Students: Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Honors 'Proud White Supremacist,' Time to Rename

The editorial board of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, the student newspaper, called for the university to rename a prestigious fellowship because its namesake, former President Woodrow Wilson, engaged in racist actions while president.

In the May 2 article, the editorial board acknowledged the award enabled students to pursue independent research, while arguing the name should better reflect the school's values. Renaming requests have occurred at higher education institutions across the country in recent years, often citing a similar sentiment that a campus namesake was out of step with a school's morals.

The editorial board labeled Wilson, an alumnus of the private Baltimore university, a "proud white supremacist" and defended their claim by a number of his actions, including:

  • Actively enforcing the segregation of the White House and U.S. Army
  • Openly opposing new freedoms granted to black Americans after the Civil War-Reconstruction era
  • Screening The Birth of a Nation, a film criticized for celebrating white supremacy and romanticizing the Ku Klux Klan, at the White House

Wilson campaigned on the message that he would provide African Americans with "absolute fair dealing," according to the Department of Labor. However, while in office, he did not oppose Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson's proposal to segregate white and black workers. The Selective Service Act of 1917 allowed African Americans to be drafted, though the Army was still permitted to have segregated units.

While a student at Johns Hopkins, the editorial board wrote that Wilson studied under Herbert Baxter Adams. The historian, who is honored with a house in one of two residential complexes, "perpetuated white supremacist views."

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Full length portrait of American President Woodrow Wilson seated outdoors, circa 1920. Fotosearch/Getty Images

The editorial board also acknowledged the contributions Wilson made to society, including helping to create the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission, inspiring future President Franklin D. Roosevelt and opposing imperialism. However, when it came to the fellowship being named after Wilson, the editorial board contended that his contributions weren't enough to outweigh the negative.

"A fellowship that lets students 'dig deeper into the issues that matter most to them' should not openly honor a man whose ideas were backward even for his time," the students wrote.

Instead of Wilson, the editorial board suggested environmental activist and scientists Rachel Carson or African American educator and mathematician Kelly Miller, who was the first black student admitted to Johns Hopkins.

The public figures the university honors are a "reflection of the sort of institution it wants to be," the editorial board wrote. Johns Hopkins had the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of "people that history too often ignores," such as women and people of color.

"Hopkins has honored Wilson long enough," the editorial board wrote. "It is time for us to renounce him."

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Glee Club at Johns Hopkins University, Woodrow Wilson (second from left, back row), Albert Shaw, and others in a group portrait, 1885. JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

The Woodrow Wilson fellowship provides eligible undergraduate students with up to $10,000 over four years to research a topic of their own design. With regard to renaming the fellowship, Johns Hopkins University told Newsweek that it would be part of a streamlined process.

"Renaming a prominent program or other feature of the university is a serious matter and cannot be done lightly," the university said. "Any decision to rename the Wilson fellowship must be guided by principles that can be consistently applied to all renaming requests."

The university is "considering" beginning this process in the fall.

Johns Hopkins Students: Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Honors 'Proud White Supremacist,' Time to Rename | U.S.