Princeton University students and faculty organize ‘Day of Action’

This Monday, the Princeton University campus will be buzzing with activity as students, faculty, and community members take part in the Day of Action, an all-day event organized by the Princeton Citizen Scientists and Princeton Advocates for Justice dedicated to addressing issues like civil rights, academic freedom, climate change and the environment.

The Day of Action will be held in the Frist Campus Center on Monday, March 6 and will start with a town hall meeting at 9 a.m. The meeting will be followed by more than 60 teach-ins and lectures led by faculty, staff and students. The event will end with a final town hall meeting from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

More than 90 Princeton University faculty and scholars will discuss topics ranging from immigration, deportation and racism to nuclear weapons, energy choices and climate agreements. Speakers include Cornel West, Sam Wang, and Robert Socolow. Featured groups include the Princeton Latinos y Amigos and the Princeton DREAM Team.

Co-founded by Sebastien Philippe and Michael Hepler, Princeton Citizen Scientists was created following the November election. About forty people attended an emergency meeting, according to Philippe, an engineering graduate student who is the president of the group. Almost 1,200 faculty, staff, and students also signed a petition supporting the Day of Action and calling on the university to put regular activities on hold for the day. The idea isn’t a new one.

“It’s actually a long tradition of scientists being in the public interest,” Philippe said. “There is such a strong tradition here in Princeton.”

The Day of Action was modeled on the “days of concern” at the Massachusets Institute of Technology, Yale University, and Columbia University in the 1970s. Professors presented numerous public lectures, taking a break from research and classes to devote their time to discussing scientific values. The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the largest science-based non-profit organizations in the United States, formed from this movement.

The mission of Princeton Citizen Scientists is to defend the values of Princeton University and of science overall, Philippe said. The group focuses on research, education, communication, and politics. Organizers say the Princeton Citizen Scientists and the Day of Action aren’t just for scientists though.

“It’s not just science that’s threatened,” said Vivian Chang, a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School. “It’s human rights, civil rights.”

Discussions will be committed to the principle of free speech, organizers said. “This is a completely open forum,” Philippe said. “We really are welcoming and inviting everyone to take part in this.”

The Day of Action was created to give people, especially undergraduate students, an opportunity to pause from their regular schedules, share ideas, and engage in discussion, Philippe said.

Teach-ins will look at pressing challenges and actions to defend the values of science and a liberal arts education, organizers said, adding that the Day of Action is inspired by Princeton’s unofficial motto of being “In the Nation’s Service
and the Service of Humanity.”

The goal of the day is to turn ideas into action, said Paul Gauthier, a research associate in the university’s geosciences department. The Day of Action also allows people to come together and recognize, that “we are equal, we are all citizens, and we want to make everything better,”  Gauthier said.

“That’s really important, building bridges with people who don’t normally connect,” Chang said.

The organization has eight task forces dedicated to tackling issues like prison reform, immigration and climate change. Philippe said that the Princeton Citizen Scientists will be planning more events and members are also going to attend the March for Science in Washington, D.C.

“We really hope that this event could inspire other universities,” Gauthier said. “We hope that in the next few weeks after that, every university will do exactly the same thing and continue
going on.”

Other universities have already confirmed their intentions to plan a similar day, Gauthier said. Students and faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will host a similar event on April 18.

Members of the Princeton Citizens Scientists already envision the group as a lasting force on Princeton’s campus that will encourage free speech and fact-based debate.

“We teach them (students) how to think by themselves, and that is exactly what Princeton has been doing for the past two hundred years,” Gauthier said.

The full Day of Action schedule is available online here. The event is free and open to the public. 


  1. This was a fantastic event, with many rooms over capacity. I’m hopeful this is just the first of many such events. MIT has announced they will be hosting their own Day of Action on April 18th.

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