Controversy arose this month over the statements University Trustee Bob Hugin ’76 made against the inclusion of gay students and women in eating clubs in 1976 and 1992, while he was in leadership roles within Tiger Inn. The statements resurfaced in light of Hugin’s current campaign for U.S. Senate as a Republican against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Students interviewed by The Daily Princetonian said they feel that the University should condemn Hugin’s statements more strongly and affirm a greater future commitment to LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.
In 1976, coordinators of the University’s then-Gay Alliance asked the University to include the phrase “sexual or affectional preference” in its official nondiscrimination policy after the coordinators were attacked for hanging a "Gay Alliance of Princeton" banner from their dorm window. Students had thrown objects at the coordinators’ windows, breaking the windows four times, and their room was ultimately broken into and vandalized. When the Gay Alliance asked for changes to the nondiscrimination policy, Hugin told The Home News that TI was circulating a petition calling for the Undergraduate Student Government to withdraw its support of the nondiscrimination clause and for a student referendum on the clause.
The article quotes Hugin saying that if a TI member was discovered to be gay, “he wouldn’t last long.”
Hugin was also TI’s alumni president in 1992, when the club lost a lawsuit against Sally Frank ’80, who fought for membership for women in TI. A TI statement accused Frank of “politically correct fascism,” and Hugin argued that the club was fighting to preserve “the right to determine our own membership.”
Hugin’s campaign disavowed his past statements in recent weeks, writing in a statement to the ‘Prince’ that Menendez is trying to “paint” him as something that he is not.
“It’s unfortunate that someone who has spent 25 years in Washington has nothing positive to campaign on and instead has to resort to political attacks like this,” Hugin wrote. “I’m proud to say that my views are a lot different than they were 40 years ago. Personal growth should be seen as a strength, not a weakness.”
At a Council of the Princeton University Community meeting on Monday, Sept. 24, President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 addressed concerns about Hugin, speaking positively about Hugin’s work as a Trustee. Eisgruber noted that past statements, which Hugin has himself disavowed, do not impact Hugin’s position on the Board of Trustees.
“I can assure you that he is a trustee of good standing, and we are very fortunate as a university to have him as a trustee here,” Eisgruber said at the meeting.
Assistant Vice President of Communications Dan Day and Vice President Bob Durkee ’69 deferred comment to Eisgruber’s statements at the meeting.
Frank told the ‘Prince’ Thursday that she is more worried about Hugin’s becoming a U.S. Senator than about his position on the University Board of Trustees. She explained that she believes it will be harder for the University to roll back LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights than it would be for Congress.
While Frank believes it is possible for people to change, she noted that Hugin was not a student, but instead an alumnus holding a “responsible position” of power when he made his comments against her lawsuit.
“There are a lot of issues that could go before the Senate, so people really need to carefully evaluate is this a sudden change, what has he done in between? How sincere can we take what he’s saying today?” Frank questioned.
Frank’s message to Princeton students is to realize “the strength of a community that appreciates the differences that people bring, be that gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion.”
She said that this is not the perspective supported by national rhetoric, and that the offensive comments in Hugin’s past are at a significantly lower level than the serious offensive actions which are playing out at the national level.
Menendez’s campaign chairman Michael Soliman told Politico that Hugin’s support of Supreme Court justices who oppose Roe v. Wade, and Hugin’s role serving as a delegate for President Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, both undermine Hugin’s claims to having changed his views on women’s rights.
But examined on its own, Hugin’s senate campaign platform supports same-sex marriage and equal opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community. He has stated that he is pro-choice and supports equal pay for equal work.
Despite Hugin’s politics, many Princetonians are calling for action to be taken against the Trustee for his past expressions towards LGBTQ+ and female Princetonians.
Eve Niedergang GS ’89 called for the University to ask Hugin to resign as a Trustee in a letter to the editor published Sept. 20, 2018, by the ‘Prince.’
Niedergang spoke about how the University has been increasingly warm toward the communities that Hugin spoke out against. She said that, because of this, Hugin and the University’s goals are fundamentally at odds.
USG vice president Nate Lambert ’20, who is an advocate for LGBTQ+ issues, deferred comment to the ‘Prince’ on whether Hugin’s remarks warrant his removal from the Board of Trustees, but said that Hugin should still be held accountable — regardless of how long ago he made the statements.
“It wouldn’t hurt if he perhaps gave a more direct apology to the current female students and LGBT students at Princeton,” Lambert said.
Lambert also noted that the current controversy is an important moment for eating club officers, suggesting that current officers should make statements telling bickerees that all students are welcome to bicker or join regardless of sexual orientation.
“I think that this presents a great opportunity for us as the current students at Princeton to reinforce the values that we have now and to make clear what those values and expectations are,” Lambert said.
He said that straight students in eating clubs should learn from this controversy and be mindful of the fears that LGBTQ+ students may have about bickering.
“When I was a sophomore I had a lot of trepidation about bickering because of my sexual orientation,” said Lambert. “I felt a fair amount of anxiety as to how much of myself I should express and reveal during bicker.”
Speaking to LGBTQ+ sophomores who plan to bicker, Lambert said, “Do not be afraid to be completely your authentic self.”
Lambert is member of Cap & Gown Club.
Stephen Chao ’19, a student intern at the LGBT Center and an LGBT Peer Educator, expressed a similar desire to hold Hugin more accountable.
“What decisions is he making in a position of power and what decisions are trustees and alumni making, and is it creating a system that we want?” Chao asked. He added that for University students, “our power here is to hold people accountable.”
Chao said he wants to know how Hugin exercises his power as Trustee.
He pointed to the negative pressure alumni exercised through statements after Rev. Sue Anne Steffey Morrow performed the first same-sex marriage in the Princeton University Chapel in 1997, which led to a requirement for a separate registry for same-sex weddings until the legalization of same-sex marriages in New Jersey in 2013.
Other student elicited strong opinions about a possible Hugin resignation from the University Board of Trustees.
Haneul Ryoo ’20, member and former outreach chair of Princeton Students for Gender Equality and member of Cottage Club, told the ‘Prince’ that she thinks asking for Hugin’s resignation based on his prior views would “detract from Princeton’s values.”
Ryoo explained that she thinks that what people are doing now to support diversity and inclusivity is more important than their past.
“It is far more important to show a change of attitude and to act on that change,” Ryoo said.
Ryoo said that current eating club members she spoke with about Hugin feel the controversy is being too strongly projected onto current club communities.
“It seems really unfair that clubs are characterized by these stereotypes that come from incidents like Hugin, that no longer characterize the club, but are still fundamentally tied to the club,” Ryoo said.
She explained that TI is actively trying to foster an inclusive environment and ensure student safety.
Nine TI members did not respond to interview requests from the ‘Prince.’