Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber issued a statement to students, faculty, staff and alumni today promising to work to improve the climate on campus for minorities. He also outlined the process that will be used to examine Woodrow Wilson’s legacy at the school.
“For more than a year, Princeton, like many other colleges in this country, has been the site of intense and often emotional discussions about racial injustice,” Eisgruber said. “These discussions emerged from and reflect disturbing national events, but they have often focused on the racial climate and the sense of inclusion at Princeton.”
Eisgruber said the conversations have often been difficult and uncomfortable.
“I have learned a great deal from them. I have heard compelling testimony from students of color about the distress, pain, and frustration that is caused by a campus climate that they too often find unwelcoming or uncaring,” he said. “In some cases, these feelings are heightened or exacerbated by exchanges, frequently anonymous, on social media. These problems are not unique to Princeton — on the contrary, similar stories are unfolding at many peer institutions — but that does not make them any more acceptable. Our students deserve better, and Princeton must do better. We must commit ourselves to make this University a place where students from all backgrounds feel respected and valued.”
Eisgruber said efforts are already under way. A special task force on diversity, equity and inclusion was created last year to develop recommendations for creating a more welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds. School officials accepted every recommendation the task force made, ranging from earmarking additional funding for programming and for staff support in key areas to a review the school’s academic programs and requirements and orientation programs for students and new faculty.
The task force recommended that the school make the Carl A. Fields Center more responsive to the needs of students. The school will also designate areas within the center for several cultural affinity groups.
Eisgruber said the school will continue to work to find new strategies to diversify Princeton’s faculty, staff, and graduate student body.
“Increasing the diversity of these campus populations is essential to enhance our scholarly and educational excellence as well as to make our campus more fully inclusive,” he said, then acknowledging that more remains to be done to make Princeton a more diverse and welcoming place.
“Recent events have focused renewed attention on the concerns of underrepresented students. Earlier this week, students occupied Nassau Hall for a day and a half to advocate for improvements in the climate for black students on campus,” he said. “Last weekend, Princeton Latino and Latina students endured a traumatic experience at a LatinX Ivy League Conference at Brown University, and upon returning to our campus they and other students have written to request a number of further improvements that would make our University more inclusive. Other student groups are also addressing these issues, and I anticipate continuing discussion — and, I hope, constructive dialogue — over the coming months.”
Eisgruber said he cares deeply about what students are saying to administrators about their experiences at Princeton, and that he is determined to do whatever he can, with the help of others, to improve the climate on the campus so that all students are respected, valued, and supported.
“Making further progress will require compassion, commitment, and imagination. It will also require that we discuss difficult topics civilly and with mutual respect,” he said. “To be an inclusive community we must treat one another with respect even when we disagree vigorously about topics that matter deeply. When I spoke to the students who occupied Nassau Hall, I insisted that we would consider carefully the issues that troubled them, but that we would do so through appropriate University processes — processes that allow for full and fair input from the entire University community.”
Woodrow Wilson’s legacy is one of the most sensitive and controversial issues on campus, he said.
“As every Princetonian knows, Wilson left a lasting imprint on this University and this campus, and while much of his record had a very positive impact on the shaping of modern Princeton, his record on race is disturbing,” Eisgruber said. “As a University we have to be open to thoughtful re-examination of our own history, and I believe it is appropriate to engage our community in a careful exploration of this legacy.”
The school’s board of trustees, which has the authority to decide how Wilson is recognized at Princeton, will create a subcommittee that will develop a process to consider the issue, and collect information about Wilson’s record and impact. The board will solicit letters from experts familiar with Wilson, and it will make those letters public. The board will also solicit opinions from alumni, faculty, students, and staff. After assessing the information and hearing the views of all parts of the Princeton community, the board will decide whether there are any changes that should be made in how the University recognizes Wilson’s legacy.
“These are turbulent and demanding times, but if we engage in thoughtful and meaningful conversation they offer hope for real progress,” Eisgruber said. “The quest for a diverse and inclusive community has been among Princeton’s most important goals at least since the presidency of Bob Goheen, and we have come a long way. But we have not come far enough, and making further progress will require hard work and good will. I am confident that Princeton’s extraordinary community — on campus, and throughout the world — is up to the task.”