Wilson’s new name to be announced by January

Joanna Chait

Eighty-five years after opening only to white students, and honoring a president whose racist policies later would be condemned, Woodrow Wilson High School is undergoing a historic change: by the end of 2020, Wilson will have a new name.

The movement to rename Wilson began in the 1970s and gained momentum in the past two years. The Black Lives Matter movement has played a crucial role in increasing support for Wilson’s name-change. Additionally, the mayor established a committee to provide guidance for renaming public buildings in DC. This combination of events—the establishment of the group and the overwhelming support behind changing Wilson’s name, qualified Wilson to be the first of 21 DCPS schools to receive a new name. 

 Last month, DCPS conducted a public survey that received more than 2,000 responses with suggestions for new names. A committee of Wilson community members, including students, parents, and administrators, began meeting on Tuesday to compile a shortlist of names. Following the completion of the list, the names will be released to the public for input. 

In response to concerns raised during a Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) meeting, DCPS altered the procedure to better include all Wilson community members. After the shortlist is created by the committee, the entire Wilson community will be able to vote online from it. After the voting, another committee with a “group of key school stakeholders will be involved in looking at the top nominees,” said Principal Kimberly Martin. 

 The committee consists of Principal Kimberly Martin, LSAT chair Sam Frumkin, community member and LSAT parent representative Zerline Hughes, DCPS Instructional Superintendent Dr. Drewana Bey, DCPS Communication Action Specialist Racquel Ortiz, Washington Teachers Union representative Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith, SGA president Racquel Jones, DCPS Manager of Community Affairs and Engagement Eli Hoffman, and Wilson Alumni Association President Damon Cordom. 

Ultimately, the final name will be decided by Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and Mayor Muriel Bowser. Though they will consider public opinion, they are not limited by the final list, and can choose any nomination that meets the naming criteria. The name will be officially changed through legislation.

 Two community members who assisted in the change of process include Jones, the SGA president, Wilson parent Elizabeth Tsehai. Both expressed concerns that the process might not adequately represent the students and suggestions by people of color.

Tsehai initially got involved with the process after reading an article in the Washingtonian arguing to rename Wilson after the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, written by a Chevy Chase resident. She believes that a different name could better represent the diversity of Wilson. Tsehai decided to become involved, contacting leaders of the DC History and Justice Collective, a grassroots group of Wilson students, parents, alumni, and community members committed to working towards changing the name of Wilson.

One of her primary concerns was the outreach of the survey to BIPOC communities. “The DCPS people are reaching out to the PTSO, which is not very diverse, [and] the Advisory Neighborhood Council (ANC), which is not very diverse,” she said. Tsehai also noticed the survey was sent around the Chevy Chase listserv and worried that responses would reflect a fraction of the Wilson population.  

 Jones said she is especially concerned about representing her BIPOC peers. “I represent the students of Wilson, students of color. It’s important to me that their voices are heard and their needs are met,” Jones said. 

Ortiz, from DCPS, and Tsehai helped facilitate a meeting with the SGA officers in order to prepare them for a possible future name-change meeting with the student body. 

“[DCPS] should have done much more to hear from other voices, I find it astounding that they didn’t make more of an effort to reach out to the student body,” Tsehai said. 

“I feel like all the students at Wilson were left out of the name change,” said Jones. Both Tsehai and Jones agree that students should have been given more inclusion in the process. 

“Our voices should be heard, especially since we go to the school,” said SGA Vice President Danny Page.