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Wilson High School Name Change Committee Invites Public Comment

[Posted November 4, 2020]

The committee responsible for choosing a new name for Wilson High School is encouraging community members to visit the name change website to learn more about the process and to make suggestions for the new name. The deadline for commenting is November 30.

Student and staff calls for a new name to replace Woodrow Wilson, cropping up from time to time over the past several years, finally gained traction last spring with the emergence of widespread social justice protests in Portland and around the U.S. An online petition created by students and staff gathered more than 5,000 signatures in support of a name change, and Wilson Principal Filip Hristic made a formal request to begin the name change process. With approval from the PPS School Board, a committee to choose a new name was formed in October. The committee is charged not only with coming up with a new name, but also with developing a process that other schools in the district can follow. Other institutions across the country named for President Woodrow Wilson have initiated similar processes. Princeton University removed the name of the 28th U.S. president from its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in June, determining that “Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combating the scourge of racism in all its forms.” Social media posts have covered a range of ideas for a new name for the high school that serves much of SW Portland. Suggestions include Oregon historical figures, Black astronauts, writers and lawmakers. One theme of the discussion on social media has been to keep the “Wilson,” or at least the “w,” to maintain a sense of continuity or to minimize the costs of rebranding associated with a new name.

Katysin Sweeney, Wilson junior, says the committee has discussed these considerations, but has concluded that a larger field of possibilities is needed: “There are not that many suggestions with the name ‘Wilson’ and if we open up our options we could choose somebody who truly and completely reflects our values.” Principal Hristic acknowledges the importance of branding and the cost to rebrand buildings, sports facilities, and athletic uniforms, but says that these concerns should not drive the conversation. “We need to make sure that our name aligns with who we are and who we aspire to be and that our name is not contributing to any member of our community feeling marginalized, ignored, or undervalued.” Principal Hristic points out that the first question on the name suggestion form is about values, and says that once those values are identified, “the committee will comb through the suggestions to identify a name that aligns with our values and will serve as a lasting source of inspiration for our students.” Adds committee member Nura Salah, also a junior, “We might choose a ‘w’ or ‘Wilson’ name, but if we do, it will be because that name is the best fit for our school, not because it starts with a ‘w.’ The final decision, as well as determining budgeting amounts and sources of funding for rebranding, is up to the PPS School Board. The Wilson renaming committee plans to submit a proposal to the School Board by the end of the year and hopes for approval in 2020 or early 2021.

Voting members of the committee are:

HuiHui Hutchinson, Class of 2022 Jonel Mondero, Class of 2022 Katisyn Sweeney, Class of 2022 Liliana McClain, Class of 2022 Mia Sedory, Class of 2021 Aslan Newson, Class of 2022 Nura Salah, Class of 2022 Senya Scott, Class of 2022 Martin Osborne, Community Member Deb Walsh, Parent Noreena McCleave, Alumna Zach Winterspring, Teacher Ellen Whatmore , Teacher Norma Hamilton, Classified staff Filip Hristic, Wilson Principal Ayesha Coning, Wilson Vice Principal Ezell Watson, PPS Community Engagement Check the Wilson Facebook page or school website for updates.

--Valeurie Friedman


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