Speakers examine discrimination at U. in 'Reach in, Teach in' colloquium| Dec 13, 2015
While the University has come a long way since its beginning in terms of addressing issues of discrimination on campus, the initial bar was very low and it still has a long way to go, panelists and members of the community said in a public colloquium Saturday hosted by the Black Justice League.
The event featured panels and presentations by African American studies professors Joshua Guild, Eddie Glaude, Ruha Benjamin, Tera Hunter and Cornel West GS '80.
Guild and Wilglory Tanjong ’18 began with a joint presentation, titled “Why Here? Why Now?: BJL Demands and Black Student Activism at Princeton,” looking at the BJL’s demands and where they fall in the history of black student activism at Princeton.
Tanjong noted that the University’s first two black students graduated in 1947, even though Harvard and Yale had offered their first degrees to black students in the 1870s. She also noted that many of the demands by the BJL are the same demands asked by black students at other institutions in the past.
Guild explained that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a demand for moving away from an entirely western Eurocentric canon in University courses. He added that many of the battles African-Americans fought for in those eras are still being fought for today, noting the recent affirmative action debates in the Supreme Court this past week.
“Part of what we want to think about is the continuities between that earlier moment and today and why is that black students in many respects are still fighting the same battles and are still asking many of the same things from these institutions, demanding many of the same things from these institutions,” Guild said.
Yina Moore ’79, former mayor of Princeton Borough, said that the Fields Center has lost its place as the cultural center for African-American students.
Another portion of the colloquium, entitled “Unity and Community: Significance of Community Organizing,” featured West, Glaude, Martina Fouquet ’16 and Destiny Crockett ’17 in exploring the significance of community in community organizing amid disagreement.
West said that the freedom movement could only be enhanced with love, respect and appreciation for freedom, dignity and integrity.
“In the end, the fundamental question is what you’re willing to live and die for,” West said. “I’m not willing to die for identity politics, I’m willing to die for freedom, I’m willing to die for truth, I’m willing to die for integrity, I’m willing to die for honesty and dignity.”
Glaude added that he does not have to get into arguments about whether or not African-American studies is a justifiable field or to justify the black presence at the University.
Crockett said that it is easy to ignore some people but there are times when you have to explain yourself, and that these times often come when one is in conversation with "power" or has to explain the truth to authority figures.
“When the president of the University says to us when we’re in his office 'Actually I think you all owe Woodrow Wilson something’ … we still have to explain to President Eisgruber that actually we don’t owe Woodrow Wilson anything,” she said.
The next presentation, entitled “Lift Up Thy Self: Respectability and Tone Policing” featured a discussion led by Hunter and Olamide Akin-Olugbade ’16 on the politics of respectability and tone policing.
Hunter said that while the politics of respectability is a response to and critique of racism, it often reinforces racial stereotypes.
“We also want to spend as much time and attention and energy in imagining and creating something that we might call institutional anti-racism,” Benjamin said. “What is the alternative? What new forms of organization and relationships and institutions are we pouring our energy in? We can’t simply tear down without building up.”
The event, entitled “Reach in, Teach in: Black Activism and Consciousness at Princeton,” took place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Frist Campus Center.