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An emergent activism on campus is capturing students' attention

Members of the current generation of Princeton undergraduates — often deemed apathetic when compared to their predecessors in the tumultuous 1960s and '70s or with peers from other colleges — have raised their voices in the last few years in a sometimes halting, sometimes hesitant — but nonetheless audible chorus of activism and outrage.

After several months of student and worker activism, President Shapiro and the Priorities Committee announced the allocation of nearly $2 million to increase salaries of the University's lowest paid employees this Spring.


The Workers Rights Organizing Committee formed in the fall to examine the University's treatment of such workers as custodians, maintenance personnel, dining hall employees and library staffers.

After its first rally in January, WROC organized several demonstrations during campus-wide social activities, after the press conference announcing the new president and even on weekend nights at the 'Street.'

In addition, USG ran its own campaign to urge students to respect the staff.

The workers were targeted for increases following PriCom's finding that they were receiving compensation packages below or near market values.

Shapiro earmarked nearly $400,000 — his remaining balance of the President's discretionary fund — while PriCom recommended providing up to $1.5 million to further increase salaries next year.

Anti-sweatshop movement

In 1999, the anti-sweatshop movement — which seeks to guarantee that college apparel is not being produced by laborers working in substandard conditions — caught fire on campus and seemed to herald a renewed spirit of Princetonian activism.


Still, though the word "sweatshop" seemed to be everywhere last year — on posters along McCosh Walk, on the pages of campus publications and even on the lips of Princeton's notoriously apathetic undergraduates — the anti-sweatshop movement has faded on campus this year, though it continues to draw attention at colleges nationwide.

"There are a lot of ambivalent feelings about the campaign at this point," said Brian White '00, a member of Students for Progressive Education and Action, the group that led Princeton's anti-sweatshop movement.

White was among the leaders of a February 1999 rally in Firestone Plaza at which protesters demanded the University agree to labor standards for the manufacture of Princeton shirts, hats and other apparel.

In White's eyes, the anti-sweatshop movement at Princeton ran out of gas for a host of reasons, the most prominent of which was that the debate became more nuanced and difficult for students to follow.

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"The issues were simpler back then," White said of last year. This year's debate — which centers more on tactics and less on philosophy — "is not as sexy. It's just not as exciting."

D-Bar protest

Princeton's graduate students stepped into the void this year left by newly reticent sweatshop activists. In reaction to the University's decision to limit access to the Graduate College's Debasement Bar — known as the D-Bar — more than 50 graduate students marched on Nassau Hall on March 2.

In the previous week, both graduate student D-Bar managers resigned their positions and closed the facility to protest the University's announcement that it would limit access to the facility to Graduate College residents and their guests.

The graduate student house committee later met with deans and hammered out a compromise, which allows for nonresidents to become D-Bar members.

Students said they were generally pleased with the compromise, but explained that graduate student frustration was larger than the D-Bar itself.

Alexandre Mas GS said the main dilemma is the lack of trust between graduate students and the administration. "There has been real trouble in the past, and the key is to keep things going steadily now to regain the trust that I think has been broken," he said.

National politics

With the presidential primary season in full swing — and a number of alumni throwing their hats in the presidential ring — last year saw a high level of student interest and involvement in national politics.

When former New Jersey senator, former Tiger forward and then-presidential candidate Bill Bradley '65 campaigned in New Hampshire in April 1999, 22 University students were there with him.

The next year, students who volunteered for Bradley and rival Vice President Al Gore during the summer returned to campus and formed committees called "Students for Bradley" and "Students for Gore."

During Fall Break — which was originally created to allow Princetonians to participate in political campaigns — groups of students headed to New Hampshire to assist candidates in their pre-primary efforts.

Several University students joined thousands of demonstrators from across the country in Washington, D.C., on April 15 and 16 to protest world financial meetings in the nation's capital.

Most of these students went with the "Democratic Left," a campus group devoted to working for liberal causes. The protests were directed mainly at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Democratic Left, which was founded early in the spring semester, is composed mostly of Princeton graduate students. The Washington protest was its first official event, and some members complained they had difficulty recruiting undergraduates to join their efforts.


Activism also took on an academic dimension two years ago as students successfully fought to reinstate an introductory Swahili language class. The course was a student-initiated seminar, offered for the first time in the spring semester through the African-American studies program.

When the University announced its intention not to offer the course next year, it drew strong criticism from students, some of whom said the move was an example of the University's failure to adequately serve minority student interests.

Dasheeda Dawson '00 decided to make this sentiment clear to the administration, and sent an email to Associate Dean of the College Hank Dobin and President Shapiro expressing her concern over what she said was "a disgrace to the school's reputation."

"Is it that the administration is saying that there is no room for an African language course?" she wrote in her email. "We all pay tuition to attend this school. It is already difficult to get and keep good African-American or minority faculty members. And finally we have one that wants to continue with a popular course among AAS students, and the administration basically is saying, 'Freak you!' This is unacceptable."

After weeks of protest, Dobin revealed May 7, 2000 that the class would make an encore appearance next year, explaining that additional money had been secured from the Provost's office to continue funding the class.


The University's hiring of controversial bioethicist Peter Singer has sparked heated protest from many off-campus groups, though students have been generally either supportive of the appointment or silent on the issue.

About 30 wheelchair-bound protesters and other disability-rights advocates from Not Dead Yet barricaded all five entrances to Nassau Hall on Sept. 21, 1999 — trapping University officials inside and preventing at least two deans from entering — before being removed by Public Safety and Princeton Borough Police.

Just hours before, about 200 protesters had descended on a soggy campus while singing, "Shapiro promotes murder," and wielding posters that compared Princeton to Auschwitz.

After the protesters attempted to block entrances to Nassau Hall, Borough police and state troopers surrounded them with metal barricades, warned them to leave and then charged them with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Fourteen activists were arrested, none of whom were New Jersey residents.

Shortly after being dragged away from the north entrance of Nassau Hall, Not Dead Yet self-proclaimed "ambulatory wheelchair warrior" Eileen Sabel chided Shapiro for not answering the protesters' demands.

"The administration wouldn't give us the courtesy of a response, so we escalated," she said. Sabel added that it was the 40th time she had been arrested in the past decade.

Opposition to the Singer appointment has continued throughout the year. About 30 members of United Parents Protesting Singer and Not Dead Yet gathered on campus April 22 to demand that the University rescind its appointment of the utilitarian ethicist.

Organizers threatened to instigate a nationwide boycott of companies with ties to University trustees, including The Gap and Avon, if the University refuses to meet its demands.