Well, it was bound to happen eventually: activist college students have finally set their sights on Woodrow Wilson. The 28th president of the United States is a favorite punching bag of libertarians, and for good reason: he involved the nation in a pointless war, segregated federal offices, jailed dissenters, created the Federal Reserve, and launched the modern cult of the presidency.
Students at Princeton—where Wilson served as president before running for governor of New Jersey—have finally turned on him, according to Fox News:
Students staged a protest Wednesday inside the office of Princeton University's president, demanding the school remove the name of former school president and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from programs and buildings over what they said was his racist legacy.
Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber told the students he agreed with them that Wilson was racist and that the university needs to acknowledge that, according to a video posted to YouTube. But a school spokesman said the president also told students it is important to weigh Wilson's racism, and how bad it was, with the contributions he made to the nation.
That wasn't good enough for black students, who said Wilson's spiritual presence on campus was marginalizing:
"Having to walk by buildings that (have Wilson's name), having to walk by his mural, having to live in residential colleges that didn't want our presence on campus, that's marginalizing," said Asanni York, a black junior who is majoring in public policy. "People are hurt by that. All this matters because, at the end of the day, black people's feelings matter just as much as any other people's feelings matter."
The protesters also want the Ivy League university to institute cultural competency training for staff and faculty, and add a cultural space on campus dedicated to black students.
That's fair. If what matters most to students is scrubbing all references to flawed people, well, they have the right to advocate for that. That's free speech, too. And Wilson certainly deserves some negative publicity—far more than he gets from the so-called experts responsible for all those rankings of U.S. presidents, which tend to elevate Wilson to godlike status. Historians really like war, for some reason.
Speaking of war, the U.S. is heading straight into another one, guns blazing. Some of the Republican presidential candidates want American troops on the ground in Syria, and Democratic frontrunner (and, to be frank, likely President) Hillary Clinton has already adopted a platform significantly more hawkish than the current administration.
Throughout history—recent history, even—students have been some of the most reliable anti-war protesters. Where are they this time? (Indeed, where have they been for the last eight years of continued bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq?)
Students can pick whatever battles they like. But it would be great—and might even make a difference—if they were to organize against military interventionism and anti-immigrant xenophobia with as much urgency as they have against offensive Halloween costumes, problematic mascots, and Woodrow Wilson. (Even though he deserves it.)
More from Reason on Wilson here.