The Wilson Beacon

Wilson is Wilson, but should it be?

Jamie Stewart-Aday

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Over the summer, The Beacon received an unusual email from a concerned Wilson mom. “The school is named after a racist – and it needs to be changed,” it read. This was far from the first time anyone had heard such a suggestion, and it’s worth revisiting as the debate continues to heat up.

The argument again took center stage a few weeks ago, when people’s Instagram feeds blew up with polls asking, “should Wilson change its name?” This was the result of an assignment given by AP Human Geography teacher Aaron Besser. “Part of AP Human Geography,” Besser said, is “where we think about the name of a place and we think about the power in why it is called what it is.” Since no place was closer to home than Wilson, Besser tasked his students with conducting surveys of other students to find out what they thought about the potential change.

The results came back mixed, however, as around 30 to 40 percent of students were in favor of the change. Of those who voted to keep the name, many saw the issue as insignificant. “The most common responses were that it wasn’t an issue that was very important, or like there are bigger problems at Wilson or things worth fixing that are not changing our name,” Besser said.

This sentiment was shared by Student Body President Leo Saunders. Although he thinks that a majority of the Wilson community should be able to force a name change if they so choose, Saunders personally is against the idea. “If you look back in time, everyone was a racist, like historically, everyone was racist or bigoted, so I personally don’t think they should change the name,” he said.

There are many, however, who disagree with this view, and among those are The DC History and Justice Collective. The group formed in June to discuss the issue of their neighborhood school bearing Woodrow Wilson’s name.

In arguing for a name change, the group talks most about Wilson’s policies in the District during his time in office. “After the Civil War, Washington offered comparatively more opportunity to its African-American residents than other cities,” Judith Ingram, one of the original leaders of the Collective, said. “Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal government: His administration fired and demoted Black Washingtonians, and decimated the city’s Black middle class.”

The president’s policies had a particularly large impact on those living in the Reno area. “The African-American community on and around Fort Reno was razed to make way for segregated white neighborhoods, including schools that were open only to white students. Naming the school across from Reno City for a person who contributed to its destruction is an insult to the memory of that community. Keeping the name is whitewashing a painful history,” Ingram said.

But many, like Besser, think that the community around and in Wilson is precisely the reason to keep the name. “One of the other common responses was that we have taken this problematic name and given it a new cultural meaning, and that we are Wilson High School and that we pride ourselves as being a more diverse and inclusive community, and therefore we have sort of changed the meaning of what could have been a bad legacy,” Besser explained.

Expect this debate to keep heating up, as it is far from over on both sides. The DC History and Justice Collective is working to host a community symposium for everyone involved in the debate sometime early next year. And although they have not discussed it in the past, Saunders predicts that SGA will “definitely” discuss the issue at some point.

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Wilson is Wilson, but should it be?