Princeton University Looks to Diversify its Collection of Portraits

In 2002, Harvard University allocated money to the Portraiture Project after it was revealed that of the hundreds of official portraits hanging on the walls of campus buildings, almost none featured women or members of minority groups. In 2005, the first six portraits commissioned under the project were unveiled. Three were of African Americans.

Princeton University did not admit Black students into undergraduate programs until after World War II and it hired its first Black faculty member in 1955. Despite not having as extensive a history of African Americans on campus as its peer institutions, Princeton, too, is now aiming to diversity its collection of portraits. Portraits of Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison and Sir Arthur Lewis have been added to the university’s collection. Eight other portraits have been commissioned.

Of the eight new portraits, three will feature African Americans:

Ruth Simmons is a former administrator at Princeton who went on to become president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She is now president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas.

Carl A. Fields became the first African American dean at an Ivy League School in 1968 when Princeton named him assistant dean of the college. The Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding on the Princeton campus has been named in his honor.

Robert J. Rivers is a 1953 graduate of Princeton University and was the first African American to serve on the university’s board of trustees. He served as a professor of clinical surgery and associate dean for minority affairs at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Dr. Rivers is retired and lives in Princeton.


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