This week, 17 student groups released a statement portrayed as seeking “unity and solidarity” in the aftermath of the senseless violence in Charlottesville. Yet the groups curiously seek such unity by listing contested and wide-ranging grievances against University policy that they insist must be corrected to help fight the evil seen in Charlottesville and other “oppressive structures and ideologies.” These Princeton-specific grievances have little to no relationship with the violence in Charlottesville. Moreover, they are unsettled matters the student body has debated passionately over the past several years. Many reasonable people of goodwill can and do respectfully disagree about these issues. Yet the statement invokes the Charlottesville violence to suggest that those who disagree with their complaints agree with and are “complicit” in the actions of white supremacists. This is false and could not be more counterproductive to unifying the campus community.
We know it is false because these issues have been debated at Princeton before through vibrant campus dialogue. A range of reasonable opinions has been shared in the opinion pages of The Daily Princetonian and during precepts and dinner discussions. It is an intellectually dishonest sleight of hand to present issues in morally absolute terms that cast dissenters as hate-filled bigots complicit in violence and oppression. This framework of moral absolutism stifles intellectual debate and the exchange of ideas by dismissing nuanced and diverse perspectives in favor of ostensibly clear-cut moral decisions that adhere to a rigid and one-sided agenda. It must be underscored, particularly for the incoming Class of 2021: You are not a racist or white supremacist or other “-ist” if you simply reject presentism as a criterion for judging historical figures, believe the endowment should be politically neutral and accordingly oppose divestment from private prisons, or have any other reason-based disagreement with the statement’s grievances.
We anticipate the countercharge to this letter will be that we seek to shut down advocacy by the statement’s signatories. Quite the opposite: We welcome further advocacy and open debates among all Princetonians about the name of the Woodrow Wilson School, private prison divestment, sanctuary campuses, affinity living spaces, and other issues included in the statement. We all do not have to agree on these topics. In fact one of the incredible things about Princeton is that we will never all agree on them! But we do have to let those who disagree with us speak freely. As discussion on these topics continues, the University community must reject the grossly inaccurate and ahistorical moral equivalence the statement draws between University policies and Nazism, racism, and white supremacism.
With the start of the school year fast approaching, we hope for another year of vigorous and critical debate. We encourage all students, faculty, and other community members to think for themselves, seek the truth, and approach every issue, regardless of emotional charge, with an open mind, respectful attitude, and confidence that they can speak freely without false charges of bigotry based on inaccurate moral equivalences.
Princeton College Republicans
Princeton Network of Enlightened Women