Princeton has always had the ability to attract stirring speakers. In the past three years, I’ve listened to Toni Morrison, Arianna Huffington, Laverne Cox and the lateJustice Antonin Scalia just to name a few. While their ideologies and fields of study vary, all of these visitors have sparked important dialogue on the state of campus, national and global affairs.
As a politics concentrator with a certificate in Latin American Studies, I was particularly interested when I received notice that the former President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, would be speaking at the Wilson School on Feb. 23. Uribe has been a critical figure in modern-day Colombian politics, and his administration is credited for significant economic growth and increased security of the state in the face of paramilitary actors. At the same time, it has been accused of human rights abuses, including civilian murders, collusion with paramilitary groups and political corruption.
It is crucial to have dialogue on the implications of his multifaceted, contested legacy. It is also important to consider the ramifications of his invitation, not only as a speaker, but also as a visiting lecturer in the upcoming academic year.
Given how important discussion of contested political legacies has been on campus, I would expect similar dialogue to occur — if not within the student body at large, then with relevant faculty and scholars.
Imagine my surprise, then, when my adviser said she was unaware of Uribe’s visit. I had asked to reschedule a meeting that was originally set for the same time as the event, and this was the only manner in which she had received word of the event.
I thought this odd, considering that she is Colombian and a political scientist. If she had not known about the event, I was left wondering who else did not. On the day of our meeting, she showed me a letter written and signed off by professors and scholars at Princeton and beyond. The letter urged the University to consider “the less salubrious details” of the Uribe administration and the significance of inviting guests with questionable legacies, especially in environments where these legacies are not genuinely open for debate. Equally important, the letter contested the limited, biased manner of the event’s publicization.
I considered the fact that the only reason I had known about the event was because I am on the Wilson School listserv. I had to check old emails from the Latin American Studies listserv to see if that program had sent a notification about the event, but it had been in only one email and was at the very bottom of a weekly events page. This was the opposite of the Wilson School’s email announcement, which was dedicated solely to Uribe’s talk and contained a large event poster in the body.
I find it odd that faculty that are from Latin America and/or studying the region were not consulted before Uribe was invited to speak, or at least asked to help format the event. I also find it strange that those who wished to hand out letters of protest or ask questions during the event were discouraged from doing so.
If the past year of campus protest, sit-ins and deliberation has taught us anything, it is the importance of dialogue. It is the power of students and supportive faculty demanding genuine dialogue that can engender change. I am not in agreement that the Wilson School requires a change in name. I do, however, think the discussions concerning his legacy as president of the University and of the United States have been crucial in discussing history, race and exclusion at Princeton.
Throughout my time here, I have respected the open dialogue that the Princeton administration helps maintain — an environment in which debates about diverse opinions and perspectives are welcome. Deliberation like this is challenging when relevant actors are excluded. It is challenging when an event is opened with a request for only questions, as if comments and concerns are not equally significant when civilly challenging someone’s words and actions. It is challenging when the University decides to not consider all the ramifications of a leader, his or her legacy and place at Princeton.
Lea Trusty is a politics major from Saint Rose, La. She can be reached at email@example.com.