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Adjusting a name to change

The Third World Center. Judging simply by the ambiguous nature of the name, one would assume that the organization served some type of interest for those in far-away developing nations. However, the purpose of this institution is to engage and educate the broader University community about issues of cultural pluralism. It is also the forum through which the concerns, views and activities of students of color and of ethnic groups on campus can find expression. The name chosen to stand for the organization, however, is not only anachronistic but is also a cause of indignation to many students of color on campus. In their eyes, it appears blatantly offensive. By virtue of one's skin color, he or she can be branded a member of a lower tier of a social hierarchy that consists of three levels; an American (or like myself, a Canadian) who is of color must inextricably be labeled as "Third World" by partaking in the organization's activities. This is unabashedly antithetical to the empowerment that an organization such as the Third World Center is supposed to advocate. What makes me a person of the "Third World" — a term even archaic in international relations — and a Caucasian not? Is it my ethnicity? Is it the color of my skin?

Many students think it is shocking that such a name can be acceptable. For this reason, we on the Third World Center Governance Board have embarked on a process to change the center's name, and it will include a student forum on Nov. 29 in Liberation Hall. Some may say that a name is not important and that it is the essence of the organization that has true meaning. My question then is: Why have a name at all? If we have a name, it must be appropriate, and it must not antagonize the University community. There are still those in the University community who cling to the name and are opposed to changing it; it represents a history, not only of the center at Princeton, but also of many people of color whom they feel should not be forgotten. For many, the center did indeed serve students on campus whose struggles could be aligned with those from the Third World. In addition, many students feel the organization should maintain its commitment to advance Third World causes.


As the Third World Center moves beyond 30 years of existence, there needs to be a rapprochement not only with the University community in general but also with students of color and ethnic groups on campus. The name, in my view, only serves as an obstacle antagonizing and dividing students on this campus. The Third World Center, in its initial press release dated Sept. 1, 1971, stated its purpose as "a cultural center — for Afro-American, Latino, Asian-American and other students — for many different kinds of activities, including seminars, colloquia, lectures, discussion groups, exhibitions and social events." Today, although the essence of the organization remains the same, its purpose cannot be fulfilled without the participation of students, and therefore if the name maligns the organization in the eyes of many Princeton students, then the name must be changed.

The Third World Center was founded in response to a certain atmosphere on the University campus; it was seen as leading a modern cause. We must not allow the organization to sink into a lull of stagnation but instead let it adapt to the change in the atmosphere of campus during the past 30 years. This entails a serious reevaluation of the organization, including what symbolizes it: the name. I hope that the University community will help the Third World Center in this process (perhaps by providing suggestions for new names) and that a name change will be a step in the right direction toward enhancing a center that remains in touch with all Princeton students whom it seeks to serve. Taufiq Rahim, the political chair for the TWC, is from Vancouver, British Columbia. He can be reached at