Wilson High could get new name before next school year
Woodrow Wilson High School will be one of the first within Portland Public Schools to undergo a name change and rebrand. A student-led effort to rename and rebrand the school has been underway since June and PPS says a new name is likely to be chosen by 2021.
A Wilson renaming committee was formed earlier this year is currently in the process of reviewing submissions for eventual consideration by the Portland School Board. The committee expects to pick a name by December, according to project timelines, with the school board reviewing the suggestion sometime in December or January.
Calls to change the name of Wilson High were initiated last year by students who argued that the name pays homage to a man who "embraced racism, hate and injustice." A petition for the change garnered nearly 6,000 signatures. It kicked off planning at the district level after review and approval from the school board.
Hui Hui Hutchinson is a student at Wilson High School who's been instrumental in getting the process off the ground.
"As a high school junior at what by year's end will formally be known as Woodrow Wilson High, I have been a voice advocating for students of color like myself," Hutchinson said back in August. "Since my freshman year I have spoken out about holding staff and students accountable for micro-aggressions, bias and xenophobia. I have requested action due to the increase in hate speech, symbols and swastikas at school, and for the removal of a large mural depicting the "Wilson era.'"
Past U.S. president or not, students, parents and school administrators are supportive, saying the school's identity should reflect that of the community and its students. Students and parents point out that President Wilson screened the controversial film, "Birth of a Nation" in the White House, which portrayed the KKK as American heroes. It was considered a groundbreaking but divisive film at the time, and was the first to ever be screened at the White House.
Wilson also favored segregated employment and before his presidency, enacted forced sterilization measures.
"Changing the school name is an acknowledgment that no building should be named for anyone who promotes racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic sentiments and/or any other hate," Hutchinson added.
It's unclear whether the high school, which serves students in Southwest Portland, will be named after another person or not. The renaming committee says it's placing greater emphasis on "groups, individuals, and cultures that have been traditionally overlooked in the naming of U.S. high schools."
Martin Osborne, a member of the renaming committee, said the guiding principles for choosing a new moniker "may not lend itself as much to a thing or place, as it would to perhaps, a person of stellar character," Osborne told a neighborhood group on Nov. 10.
Shanice Clarke, chief engagement officer for PPS, said Wilson is one of two high schools in the district currently undergoing a name change process. Madison High School is also likely to get a new name.
"The name of the school community didn't resonate with the values and identities of all students," Clarke noted. "Both of these schools are almost our case study or pilot study of what naming or renaming schools should look like."
Clarke said the goal is to "build environments for students where they can make connections to history that feel humanizing and transformative."
"That doesn't necessarily mean that the school community's identity is being erased," she noted.
Public input and suggestions are expected to be accepted through November.
Wilson High School Principal Filip Hristic is also on the renaming committee. He said the current process underway is a chance to do something significant and meaningful.
"Our school is committed to the ideals of equity, justice, and compassion. For many years, students, families, and staff have argued that our school's namesake does not represent these ideals," Hristic said. "We now have the great opportunity to choose a school name that will serve as a lasting reminder of our deepest values and aspirations."
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