The University may soon have a system for students to anonymously report discriminatory or offensive comments made by professors and preceptors, Asanni York ’17, co-chair of the Council of the Princeton University Community’s Working Group on Structure and Support, said.
Though there are already processes in place to report discrimination, many students don’t know about them, York said. The format of such reporting requires the student to convince administrators that the professor made offensive or prejudiced statements, he added, saying that when students are reporting to people of power, failing to say the right thing at the right time may result in their complaint being overlooked.
There is currently no new system for reporting complaints, but a new website was recently created for members of the University community to submit diversity-related comments,University spokesperson Martin Mbugua said.
York said that in the very early stages of the task force, the members sent out a large survey asking questions about changes wanted by the student body. One of the questions asked if the students saw a need for reporting people for discrimination and asked students to provide examples that would help the task force.
“There were hundreds of examples,” York said.
In one instance, a preceptor had asked his classmates to share their names, class years, majors and their relationships to slavery. There was only one African-American student in the class, and the student’s ancestors were slaves. Making a student publicly discuss that relationship was insensitive, York said.
Although graduate and undergraduate students alike have experienced or observed classroom discrimination, the process for complaining is so unclear, arduous and time-consuming as to repel most students, Ricardo Hurtado GS, co-chair of the CPUC’s task force on academics and awareness, said.
He added that the weak accountability system in place for faculty suggests that even if an anonymous reporting system is created, it is questionable whether tangible results will come out of it.
While professors have been removed from courses after enough student complaint, it is difficult to effect change since faculty members have so much autonomy in and out of the classroom, Hurtado said.
An offensive statement made by a tenured professor regarding the die-in protests following the death of Eric Garner is another example of the need for a more streamlined reporting system, York said.
“[The professor] said, ‘Oh, the black students are doing another protest. I hope they don’t go loop Frist [Campus Center] after this,’ ” York said.
If the anonymous reporting system is successfully implemented, a key aspect of the system should be giving students access to the data, Hurtado said, adding that students would gain power because problems would be known to everyone rather than just the administration. Making the data public would also be useful to all parties, he said.
The goal of the protests recently, York said, was to demand conversation among the student body regarding the recent events.
“We did everything on Princeton’s campus because Princeton is a campus of silence. As Cornel West said, ‘Princeton is notorious for graduating cowards,’ ” York said. “Princeton has a whole bunch of people who would rather sit around and act like they care or who don’t care at all. We wanted to block Frist off because people don’t want to talk about these issues. We’re going to make you talk.”
While many alumni have been vocal about their disapproval of the recent events on campus, some members of the administration and Board of Trustees have expressed their support, he said.
The task force is also hoping to require cultural competency training for every person employed by the University, York said.
Additional initiatives within the task force include potentially adding a distribution requirement to increase a focus on cultural identity, perhaps increasing disability, racial or gender awareness, York said.