Monmouth University Changes Name Of Wilson Hall
Over the weekend, I got an email from my alma mater Monmouth University with the subject "Important University Update". I assumed it had something to do with the coronavirus, or maybe the on-going protests surrounding Black Lives Matter. Honestly I get plenty of "important" emails sent to all alums that are completely un-important to me, but I always open them just to see what's going on.
Here's what the email said:
The Board voted unanimously to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from our marquee building and then voted to rename the building — the Great Hall at Shadow Lawn. Wilson was a controversial politician, who never actually set foot in the current building. Removing his name, and incorporating these earlier names, connects the centerpiece of our campus more accurately to our historical roots and eliminates a symbolic barrier to the important work of creating a truly welcoming and inclusive space in the Great Hall ... The Board has also directed the administration to take action to honor the contributions of Julian Abele, one of the first professionally trained African American architects, who was the lead designer of the Great Hall.
Unsurprisingly, this decision brought out a LOT of emotions, with hundreds of comments on the University's Facebook post.
As an alum, I know that Monmouth had a few different stories when it came to why the building was named after Woodrow Wilson. Some said it was his summer home, others said the school was just built on his estate, but I had honestly never heard that Wilson "never actually set foot in the building", so that seems like a bit of revisionist history, or at the least, admitting that a former selling point of the school may have been exaggerated.
When I was scanning the comments on that Facebook post, I was reminded that the school had actually asked all alumni whether or not the named should be changed a few years ago. A quick search through my old emails found the original question back in 2016 (this is why you should never delete old emails). At the time, the email said:
We have been having conversations on campus about race and inclusion, and whether it is appropriate to have Woodrow Wilson's name on our signature building. While Wilson made significant contributions as a leader, his legacy also includes his troubling views on race. As you may know, other institutions have faced similar questions about Wilson, and across the country institutions are debating the legacy of other historical figures represented on their campuses.
The email said they wanted to know what we thought, saying "a decision will be made by the Board of Trustees", and alumni opinion would be an important part of the process.
I don't remember any sort of follow-up to that email, and since nothing was mentioned about it in four years, I assume the majority of alums didn't support a change, and the Board voted to keep it.
With all that being said, I truly do not care if the name of the building is changed. It's just a building, man. I had a few classes in Wilson Hall, I had many band performances (the acoustics in that place are incredible), but rarely did I walk into the building thinking "gee, what a guy that Wilson was!" - more often, I would think about how the 1982 movie Annie was filmed there or if the fireplaces still worked or if I could break in and play the organ. Some of the comments made were people outraged that the school would cave to the PC Police, threatening to never donate to the school, and levels of outrage that just seem misplaced.
I know it's easy to immediately jump into Godwin's Law, but if the school had been founded and there was a "Hitler Hall" or a "Goebbles Center", I would expect a name change. While Wilson wasn't at the level of wiping out a group of people, he still had views on race and segregation that have no place in today's society.
Plenty of people throughout history have dark sides that are just coming to light. Not all of our heroes were perfect, not all of the history books were accurate. While some may rant about "erasing history", I would like to think that "fact-checking history" would be more accepted. No one wants to forget that Wilson was ever President, but it should be acknowledged that he wasn't perfect. No one is trying to forget that some Confederate general ever existed, but statues shouldn't be erected for traitorous losers. Change the name, and get over it. If you don't ever want to go back for Homecoming, you won't be missed.