In an unprecedented civic engagement event, University affiliates organized to create yesterday’s Day of Action. Hundreds of students converged in Frist Campus Center to participate in what organizers called a “day of Teach-ins and Action.”
Sixty-four teach-ins, discussions, and teaching sessions centered around a certain topic were conducted on issues such as civil rights, democracy and knowledge, and international peace and security, as well as climate and environmental challenges. By 1 p.m. yesterday, over 500 University affiliates had “filled Frist Campus Center to participate in the March 6 events,” according to a press release from Dr. Paul Gauthier.
Teach-ins were solicited from all student groups and organizations at the University “irrespective of politics, ideology, or creed,” according to a packet detailing the day’s events. Furthermore, their views don’t necessarily reflect that of the organizing groups.
The opening town hall at 9 a.m. allowed leaders of the parent organizations for the event to address an audience of about 75 about their reasons for organizing. Notably, this event has become the inspiration for similar initiatives at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and MIT. MIT’s event will take place April 18.
Sarah Sakha ’18, Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Prince,’ helped open the town hall.
“Let us consider what our legacy will be," Sakha said. "How can we better promote the values of equality, diversity, freedom, democracy, and justice, which lie at the crux of conversation today?"
"The goal of the day is to reaffirm the responsibilities of a community devoted to scholarship, the use of knowledge for the common food, and the ideals of diversity, democracy, and justice," Sebastien Philippe said. Philippe is the president of Princeton Citizen Scientists, one of the groups that organized the Day of Action.
Nicholas Wu ’18, one of the founders and leaders of Princeton Advocates for Justice, addressed the broad span of issues that would be addressed during the day’s events at the opening town hall.
“I’m awed by the sheer diversity of the teach-ins today and the outpouring of support for the Day of Action,” Wu said in his speech. “It gives me and Princeton Advocates for Justice hope for future collective, intersectional activism. It’s incumbent on all of us to transform these discussions into action.”
Wu is an associate opinion editor for the ‘Prince.’
The event came to fruition after the Nov. 9 election of President Trump, when members of the University community rallied in reaction. Almost immediately after the election, PAJ, an intersectional group composed of 25 student activist groups, was formed. In the past, PAJ organized the Immigration Day of Action and Arts without Borders. Princeton Citizen Scientists also formed in response to the presidential election and is composed of science, engineering, and social science graduate students. PCS conceived the idea for the Day of Action and worked together with PAJ to create the University-funded event, involving local activist groups outside of the University community as well. According to Wu, the University supplied $12,000 in funds from various departments and offices for the event.
According to a packet detailing the events of the Day of Action, the event’s mission is “to create a space and time where the Princeton University community can come together, have open and honest discussion, and launch ideas into reality. Institutions are shaped by those who participate in them; our mission is to empower the Princeton community by increasing our participation in local and public sector organizations.”
At the town hall, physicist and professor Zia Mian noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky’s famous 1967 essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” Mian is the co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the University and works closely with PCS.
“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies,” Mian said, quoting Chomsky. He explained that through the Day of Action, “we are trying to practice that responsibility.”
He noted that because the situations today are similar, so is the obligation. He added that today’s college students are the next generation to carry on this tradition.
“Forty years ago [Chomsky] was talking about fake news, alternate facts, and an administration that has no idea what truth telling and its obligation to its citizens actually looks like,” Mian said. “This is not the first time.”
Wu and Sakha also led a teach-in titled “The Role of Free Press in Preserving Democracy” during which they addressed participants’ media diets — the types of news and news sources people consume. The teach-in also addressed the Wall Street Journal’s recent project, “Blue Feed, Red Feed,” which uses an algorithm to show what a liberal’s and a conservative’s respective Facebook feeds would look like, and how homogeneous the events are. Sakha also addressed the opinion echo chamber in which people of the same political opinions reside. The two also discussed the blurred line between editorial and news writing.
The day also included tabling organizations in Frist from outside the University, including Citizens Climate Lobby, the Coalition for Peace Action, Innovations for Successful Societies, Showing Up for Racial Justice, RepresentUs Central NJ Chapter, and Stand CNJ.
Some professors even rescheduled Monday classes so they and their students could participate in the Day of Action, the press release stated.
Other events included a panel of activists and organizers called “University Center for Human Values (UCHV) Values and Praxis Lab: Community Organizing.” Panelists included Professor Jeffrey Stout, Dr. Cornel West, Nyle Fort, Daniel May, and Jessica Sarriott.
The event also included breakfast, lunch, and dinner for participants. Organizers wore bright yellow t-shirts that matched the posters around campus which have been advertising the event for the past three weeks.
A final town hall included an open mic for participants to express their thoughts and reactions at the end of the event.