University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 charged the executive committee of the Council of the Princeton University Committee with developing recommendations to improve the University’s policies and practices regarding diversity, inclusion and equity on campus during a meeting on Monday afternoon.
The meeting took place in a packed McCosh 10, a larger venue than usual. Around 150 people attended, significantly more than the couple dozen attendees at most CPUC meetings in Betts Auditorium. The initial agenda for the meeting —which included a discussion of the Princeton Perspective Project —was not followed in order to conduct an extended question and answer session.
Eisgruber said the committee would discuss initiating events to enhance public dialogue in the upcoming months, consider expanding its membership to include more student voices and try to render its processes more transparent.
"Recent events provide yet another painful reminder that, despite America's foundational commitment to human equality and unalienable rights, racial injustice has stained our republic from the moment of its inception," Eisgruber read from a prepared statement that is now published on the University's website.
He added that the University community is encouraged to contribute to the national dialogue on racial violence following the widely reported killings of two unarmed African-Americans.
“The tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, have again exposed the distressing gap that separates our aspirations from our achievements,” Eisgruber said, adding that protests across the country and on campus strongly testify to the severity of the issue.
Representatives from the Undergraduate Student Government said during the public comments section that USG had passed a senate resolution calling for the University to take action related to equity and diversity on campus.
The resolution asks University faculty to establish the Program in African American Studies as a formal undergraduate concentration; to require mandatory cultural competency training of all University faculty, staff and other community members; and to create a more transparent and accountable reporting mechanism for issues of discrimination, microaggression and bias, among other requests.
“I know we’re not doing as well as we should,” Eisgruber said of the University's progress on diversity issues in response to a student’s comment during the meeting’s hour-long question and answer session.
“We’ve tried over decades to do better and better, but even as we do better, additional steps need to be taken.”
Several students said they were concerned that cultural competency training is not mandatory for faculty, staff and other University community members who interact regularly with students. Eisgruber responded that he cannot mandate training for faculty given contractual limitations but that his cabinet has decided to engage in training and that the administration continues to look into the most effective ways of administrating training.
Students also voiced concerns over the University’s alleged lack of immediate action regarding diversity issues, noting that extended conversations have not led to enough immediate changes.
“This is kind of overlooking the daily reality that students on this campus face,” a senior undergraduate said of ongoing conversations.
“We, in many different forms and for many different reasons, don’t all feel like we are comfortable [on campus].”
Eisgruber said the question of creating a concentration in African American Studies would depend on faculty commitment from the Center for African American Studies, as establishing a new major would cause significant changes to their commitments.
Students who recently met with Eisgruber to discuss these issues said they would like to see more transparency within the CPUC’s executive committee, noting that many students are unaware of its procedures.
Eisgruber responded that the committee’s procedures are outlined online and that CPUC meetings are advertised both online and in The Daily Princetonian but that he agrees that CPUC should continue to promote student interaction.
In response to complaints that a student was not featured on the University’s recent diversity panel, Eisgruber said the University has a range of panels with different representatives, some with students and others without students.
“I don’t think we can have … a rule of thumb or provisions about what kind of people have to sit on a particular panel,” Eisgruber said. When students said they were concerned by the comments of panelistRussell Nieli GS ’79, a James Madison Program senior preceptor, Eisgruber saidthe University has very broad rules allowing for freedom of speech and noted that Nieli is not currently teaching at the University.
He added that students with concerns about statements made by professors and other authority figures should contact Vice Provost of Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter.
A student also proposed including a distribution requirement for students for classes shaped toward learning about different identities, such as different races and sexual orientations. Eisgruber said a faculty committee was evaluating the current distribution requirements and that this kind of question would be addressed in the process.
Fliers outlining critical policy recommendations related to campus diversity and racism were passed out to audience members by University students before the meeting.
"This national issue has illuminated campus problems of overt racism, microaggression, stereotyping and exclusion that we aim to transform," one of the document's drafters, Cameron Maple ’15, read from the document during the meeting.
“I think this is the beginning of a conversation, which we hope will be ongoing,” Eisgruber said of the discussion, adding that student propositions are welcome and have provided the administration with a great set of starting points.