Updated: Students “walkout and speakout,” occupy Nassau Hall until demands of Black Justice League are metand Hannah Waxman | Nov 18, 2015
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said that he had no plans to sign the document outlining the demands of student protesters occupying his office in Nassau Hall on Wednesday.
The “Walkout and Speakout” protest, organized by the Black Justice League, began at 11:30 a.m, when nearly 200 students convened outside Nassau Hall.
The students then moved into Nassau Hall and filled the hallway, chanting, “We here. We been here. We ain’t leaving. We are loved.”
The organizers demanded cultural competency training for faculty and staff, an ethnicity and diversity distribution requirement and a space on campus explicitly dedicated to black students. In addition, protesters sought acknowledgement that former University President Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, has a racist legacy that is impacting campus climate and policies and requested that Wilson’s name be taken off of the Wilson School and Wilson College.
However, Eisgruber said he will not meet the demands.
“The demands include some things I have no authority to do, and some things I disagree with,” he noted.Asanni York ’17, one of the organizers of the protest, explained the group would not leave until Eisgruber signed the document listing the demands.
“We are tired of talking to people. It’s conversation, conversation, conversation. We try and protest; we meet with the administration every other week,” York said. “We’re done talking. We’re going to be here until he signs this paper. We’re going to be here until things are met.”
University spokesperson Martin Mbugua said that as of Wednesday at 10 p.m., students were still occupying Eisgruber’s office and that the Department of Public Safety had no intention of disciplining or evicting them.
The protesters circulateda sign-up sheetfor 30-minute shifts to continue the sit-in from 9 a.m to 6:30 p.m until next Tuesday.
Eisgruber explained that he had an hour-long discussion with the student protesters about their demands and the current racial climate at the University.He described the conversation as very engaged, adding that it was very important for him to hear exactly what their concerns were and why they had chosen to act in this way.
“I think that it is harder to be a black student on our campus than it is to be a white student. We should be aiming for a campus in which all students feel equally welcomed,” Eisgruber said.
He added that he agrees with some of the students’ points, saying that Wilson was a racist and that the University should talk candidly about his legacy, including both its good and bad parts. However, he added that he disagrees with the idea of renaming the Wilson School and Wilson College.
“I think it is important for me to be sensitive about these points and honest about my views that I talk about,” he said.
Eisgruber also agreed that an ethnicity and diversity distribution requirementwould be a good thing for the University to have. However, he noted that the decision belongs to the faculty and should be made through the appropriate processes.
The request for a space specific to black students is reasonable and desirable, Eisgruber said, adding that he and his colleagues will work on creating such a location on campus as quickly as possible.
“We have to figure out what’s feasible and we have to recognize if we do that, we can’t do this for black students and not also do it for, for example, students from Latinx, who are also very interested in having a dedicated space,” he explained.
Eisgruber said that cultural competency training for the faculty could be useful, but that mandatory training is neither feasible nor effective because many different ways, rather than simply one way, exist to respond to diversity and intercultural differences. He noted that these changes would have to be made by the faculty in a vote and that he does not think the faculty would approve that measure.
He supported improving the accessibility of voluntary training available to interested parties, explaining that people who care about the programs are likely to benefit from them.
He noted that some reforms have already been put into effect, such as thereplacement of the title of “Master” with “Head of the College.”The University announced the change on Wednesday morning, nearly two hours before the protest.
York explained that the group views protest as necessary in changing the racial climate at the University.
“A sit-in hasn’t been done on Princeton’s campus in 20 years. It’s time to make something happen,” York said.
He explained that the University administration has been addressing race-related issues on campus“in a very white comfortist manner.”
“They talk about issues without talking about the issue,” he said. “They stray away from making statements that make bold claims because they don’t want to make some people uncomfortable. But black students on this campus feel uncomfortable every day.”
Trust Kupupika ’17, a member of the Black Justice League who attended the meeting in Eisgruber’s office, said that the conversation was interesting, but not in a good way. She explained that she felt much of what was said formed part of a diversion tactic, a way to tire out those who were speaking or to paint those who were speaking in a very malicious manner.
When asked about the issue of cultural competency training, Kupupika said that Eisgruber seemed more concerned about the feelings of his staff rather than those of the students in his office.
“He would never want to force his staff to do anything, that they should make a choice to do it, and yet he didn’t see a problem in having students of color being forced to get a degree, or eat dinner or lunch or live in a place that’s named after a racist,” Kupupika said.
Leea Driskell ’17, one of the student protesters, said that she felt that students do not get the voice they need to have within the administration, and if they do have that voice, it is not often heard.
“The University has a tendency to throw money at things to silence us and to hold events to try to appease students, but it doesn’t directly meet our demands,” she said.Precepts in the African American Studies department were held in Nassau Hall on Wednesday. William Barber II, a Protestant minister and political leader in North Carolina who spoke Wednesday night in the University Chapel, and Ruth Simmons, the first black provost at the University, also made an appearance at the sit-in.
The doors to Nassau Hall were locked at around 6:30 p.m. because the building is normally locked at night, according to Mbugua.