A majority of the undergraduate student body voiced the need — not the desire, not the want, but the need — to reform a broken Honor Code system through democratic processes. But the administration of President Eisgruber, along with Dean of the College Jill Dolan, Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni, and Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun, pulled the rug out from under Princetonians. For all the debate and discussion that appeared on the pages of The Daily Princetonian, nothing happened. Recently, Micah Herskind, one of the loudest voices for reform, advocated for student mobilization in response. The HC Reform movement naively thought that a majority vote would work, but embracing the University’s processes, as one can learn from the history of the Black Justice League and minority student activism on campus, doesn’t do a damn thing.
From the start, you have to grab the University’s attention, force it to listen, and refuse to let go until your demands are heard. The mobilization of the BJL and Occupy Nassau movement of the 2015–16 academic year did just this. While the BJL advocated for a different reform than the Honor Code Reform movement, they also pursued a vastly different strategy.
The model that the BJL used to put pressure on the University included a sit-in, active protests, and press coverage from national media outlets. It also coincided with the larger narrative of societal inequities and systemic oppression of Black people in America. It’s not unlikely that the negative press resulting from the protests caused the cash stream of donations from alumni to take a hit, too. Within the context of the BJL, a small cadre of students fighting for justice used the disincentive of negative press and publicity on Princeton to accomplish its goals.
But this model unfortunately won’t work now. The Honor Code issue is so endemic to our institution that the BJL-style, unilateral actions against the University — which realistically can do whatever it wants policy-wise — will not garner support in a larger context.
With this leverage over the University out of the picture, the question left is how to use the advantages of the scope and scale of the support for the referenda. The mass of the student body is critical. In the absence of the external pressure of negative publicity, utilizing the popular support of the referenda to start a collective bargaining process is our strongest position.
If the student body as a whole wants the University to play ball, the best move forward is massive collective action. Or, as it might better be manifested, inaction. For example, the student body has shown itself capable of having not a single person enroll in the class of the electrical engineering professor who sexually harassed a graduate student.
It may sound ridiculous, but Princeton students need to strike. Refuse to participate in a broken system. Refuse to take your final exams. At least one professor might be happy for the rescheduling. Unfortunately, the University is well-versed in tactics of delaying student-driven reform. The timing of the University’s action strategically grounded the students with Dean’s Date papers, final examinations, and independent work to deal with. Organizing in a time like this is understandably difficult. On top of this, the nature of our Orange Bubble lets students ignore political realities both on campus and the outside world. I’m as worried as the next student about my Dean’s Date papers. A student strike may realistically be a pipe dream, but one for an undoubtedly important cause. Regardless, this situation highlights the ridiculousness of what it takes to effect change at this university under President Eisgruber and the rest of this administration. One thing is certain, you can’t trust the process or the administration. Perhaps Triangle said it best, “Nothing ever happens in Princeton.”
Ryan Chavez is a junior in history from Arcadia, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.