By Sheryl Estrada
UPDATE Nov. 20, 2015 at 6:37 a.m.: The Princeton University Press Club reports President Eisgruber, Vice President Calhoun and Dean Dolan signed an amended document of the Black Justice League’s demands late Thursday evening. After the sit-in concluded, the Department of Public Safety issued a warning about a bomb and firearm threat that they received via email “that made reference to a student protest on campus.”
Members of the Black Justice League, a student organization at Princeton University, are continuing a sit-in at the office of President Chris Eisgruber in Nassau Hall.
An organizer of the Black Justice League told DiversityInc on Thursday the specific demands given to Eisgruber:
The organization said the sit-in will last until the requests are met.
On Wednesday afternoon, before the sit-in began, hundreds of students at walked out of class and marched to Nassau Hall to protest against Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on campus and that underrepresented students do not feel safe on campus. While a few dozen members of the Black Justice League remained inside Eisgruber’s office for the night, others spent the evening camped outside of Nassau Hall.
At 9 a.m. on Thursday, a diverse group of undergraduate students, and even a few graduate students, gathered in the foyer outside of Eisgruber’s office to write about their negative experiences on campus.
“They asked everyone to share their experiences of times where they have felt unsafe because of their identity or challenged,” a Princeton post doctorate scholar, who wanted to remain anonymous, told DiversityInc. “Everyone started writing down their demands and why they are here.”
At the gathering, students were reminded to use the hashtag #OccupyNassau when sharing protest experiences on social media.
When Eisgruber met with students Wednesday he agreed that Wilson was racist and the university needs to recognize that. However, he did not meet their demands.
“I appreciate where your demands are coming from,” he said. “I agree with you that Woodrow Wilson was a racist. But I cannot sign your document.”
Wilson was the president of Princeton from 1902 to 1910, and U.S. president from 1913 to 1921. He was a segregationist. In his first term in office, the House passed a law making racial intermarriage a felony in the District of Columbia. The new Postmaster General was ordered to segregate his Washington offices, with Treasury and Navy soon following.
University officials announced on Wednesday the leaders of the residential colleges would change their traditional names from “master” to “head of the college,” effectively immediately.
A Black student at Princeton, who asked to remain anonymous, told DiversityInc the climate at Princeton is challenging for a “Black student in a place that was ultimately made for Christian, straight, white men.”
She and other Blacks students agree with the Black Justice League’s right to have their voices be heard. However, she believes many of the demands simply cannot be met:
I think a lot of Black students as well, not in contrast to the Black Justice League, may not agree with a lot of the demands being made, but wholly agree with their right to stand up and say it. And wholly agree with their right to protest and take action on a issue that affects all of us. We agree with a movement that imagines a better Princeton that is safer for people of color.
Princeton has a long history of allowing underrepresented students to feel disenfranchised. Last year, students feeling disconnected at Princeton created a Tumblr page, “I, Too, Am Princeton.” According to the website, its purpose was “to build a stage on which men and women of color can be included in the atmosphere of this campus.”
The protests at Princeton are part of a wave of protests around the country following last week’s demonstrations at the University of Missouri, which led to the resignation of former president Timothy Wolfe.
The student body at Princeton is 47 percent white, 20 percent Asian, 8 percent Latino, 8 percent Black and less than 1 percent Native American, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Meanwhile, the socio-economic diversity, which according to the College Scorecard is represented by the number of students receiving Pell grants, is 12 percent. Only 5 percent of students at Princeton receive federal loans. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, the school’s endowment value stood at $22.7 billion.
Rutgers University — New Brunswick campus, a public institution less than 20 miles away, meanwhile, has a similar student-body demographic: 45 percent white, 26 percent Asian, 12 percent Latino, 8 percent Black, and less than 1 percent Native American. Yet, the socio-economic diversity of its students is 31 percent. The school’s endowment is $918,575,000.
The president of Brown University, Christina Paxon, was on campus at Princeton Wednesday night for an event at the art museum and had an opportunity to speak with the students protesting, said the Princeton post doctorate student interviewed by DiversityInc.
She said Paxon shared that her school has a legacy of slavery as the founders, the Brown family, were involved in the slave trade as during that time in Rhode Island it was the norm. Paxon said the school has addressed and acknowledged this.
“In addition to that she was encouraging students, very much, that scholarships for persons of color are also important and not just changing names [of the buildings named after Wilson],” the post doctorate scholar said.