Wilson alumni oppose proposed name change

Courtesy of Creative Commons - davebarger

Zoe Friedman

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Wilson alumni Damon Cordom created a survey in March on the Facebook group of Wilson alumni to gauge alumni support for changing Wilson’s name. While the survey is still collecting responses, a majority of alumni oppose the name change so far based on comments in the Alumni Beacon, a publication produced by Wilson alumni.  

Damon Cordom started the poll. “We put it out earlier this year, I would say March.” He says that the poll hasn’t been out long enough to gather conclusive data, but  based off the comments from alumni shows in the Alumni Beacon, the majority don’t want a change. He created the poll after a panel about the name change in order to see what different members of the Wilson community, including the alumni, thought about the proposal.

Before filling out the questionnaire, the survey contains two articles: one supporting the name change and one against it. Cordom, who graduated in 1950, included these articles to make sure the reader had a educated opinion before making a decision.

“[The survey] asks a series of questions and has two articles, one about leaving the school pretty much as it is and the other one indicates that the change will be significant,” said Cordom.

The article against the name change, “Woodrow Wilson and Race” was written by John Milton Cooper, a Woodrow Wilson alumni, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, and author of the definitive biography on President Wilson. “The initiative [supporting racial segregation in the government] did not come from him; rather, it came from his southern white cabinet secretaries,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper believes that Wilson is not entirely to blame for the razing of the homes of the African-American reno community and segregation of the government. Cooper notes that he became the first president to speak out against lynching and stresses that Wilson’s racial views were that of the typical white northerner of his time.

The article for the name change, “The Name Should Change” was written by Wilson history teacher Michelle Bollinger. “[Wilson] held deeply racist views… [and] failed to act as an epidemic of lynching engulfed the United States.”  

After reading the articles for and against the name change, the survey asks a total of 17 questions. They ask for the year you graduated from Wilson, your first reaction upon learning of the proposal to change the school’s name, your opinion of the proposal to change the school’s name after watching the panel, and other questions about reactions to the articles and how much you previously knew about the name change argument.

A vast majority of the comments don’t support the name change, though they generally agree that it is a very nuanced issue. “I would like to state that I am very much against the name change. Unfortunately there are no ‘do-overs’ in life. And changing a name does not change history in any way,” commented Suzanne Dailey, who graduated Wilson in 1953. It is interesting to note that Wilson didn’t become an integrated school until September 1954.

Principal Martin noted that after the survey was published, she received a lot of emails from Wilson alumni about the name change. “It’s kind of weird because I did not know about the facebook survey or about the articles or about any of the debate because I’m not alumni,” she said. “All of a sudden my inbox just started getting flooded with some [negative] emails and then some that were just really thoughtful.”

Some people think it would be a good idea to name Wilson after a historical site, like Fort Reno, to avoid bias in name selection. Others thought the school could keep the Wilson name and drop Woodrow, supplanting him with another famous Wilson like African-American playwright August Wilson.

There still isn’t enough data to make accurately show what the majority of Wilson alumni thinks about the name change proposal. “We’re just starting to get these numbers in, we don’t really have a good estimate.” said Cordom.