Eisgruber '83 email sparks student response in light of recent controversies| April 9, 2015
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 sent an email to all undergraduate students on Thursday inviting them to a gathering on Sunday to discuss the recent controversies over Urban Congo and the selection of Big Sean as the Lawnparties headliner that sparked widespread discussion oncampus.
“We owe it to ourselves to do better, to be better, and to embrace all the members of our community with respect and with genuine appreciation for the perspectives they bring,” Eisgruber wrote in his email. “We must treat individuals, groups, and cultures with the dignity they deserve; we must not traffic in stereotypes.”
Minutes after Eisgruber's email, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter sent an email asking for student input, and she referenced resources on campus that students could draw on for both the issues of Big Sean and Urban Congo.
She also expressed her anger at students’ verbal indiscretions over social media about these issues.
“I am appalled by the offensive exchanges about these matters and other campus controversies on Yik Yak and elsewhere, particularly those targeting fellow students directly,” she wrote. “This has no place in our community and degrades our campus climate.”
Student opinions about the emails varied.
Somesupported Eisgruber’s email and drew attention to the fact that the he involved himself in the discussion.
Undergraduate Student Governmentpresident Ella Cheng ’16 said that she is pleased to see a response from the administration.
“I’m happy that they issued a response this time around,” she said."In the past, there’s criticism for the administration of not being responsive or silent on important conversations on campus. I think what’s important is that we ensure that we respect each other when we have these conversations and debates."
Cheng is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.
USG social chair Simon Wu ’17 said that he supports the upcoming discussion because he thinks every student's voice should be heard. He added that the artist selection cannot be changed at this point anyways.
“With respect to directly affecting the choice of the spring Lawnparties act, it’s kind of impractical for us to be closing on a contract now,” he explained, citing that Big Sean was selected in January.
However, other students said they did not think Eisgruber's email was well thought-out, verging on racist and offensive.
Ifunanya Nwogbaga ’18 said he believed that Eisgruber overlooked the severity of the issue in the email and had “the wrong message.”
“I could see how Eisgruber’s message was really not totally appropriate. It’s kind of implying that the things that have been happening are okay and that they need to be discussed, when really they should not be happening at all,” he said.
Nwogbagaadded that Eisgruber should have acknowledged that the Urban Congo incident offended black students in particular.
“[Eisgruber] was very removed in his tone and he wrote it in a very objective way,"Sadiki Wiltshire ’17 said. “The email wasn’t exactly compassionate to everyone offended by Urban Congo.”
Brandon Holt ’15 expressed his anger that Eisgruber undermined racism as a controversy that is "fundamental to the life of any great University” in his email while students are still experiencing alienation and harm. According to Holt, by alluding to freedom of speech, Eisgruber seemed to have justified racism under guidelines of academic freedom.
Holt is also a former member of the Daily Princetonian Editorial Board.
“Students are experiencing pain and depression because of racism, something certainly not necessary or ‘fundamental’ to campus lives,” Holt said. “This certainly does not make me feel welcomed. There are certainly limits of speech.”
Destiny Crockett '17said that she believed the issues of Urban Congo and Big Sean should have been addressed separately.
“I guess my big problem was that he conflated the two issues but asides from that, that he excused racism as something satirical, students on campus as being humorous. He went on to defend hate speech as scholarly discourse, which is in essence, racist, because it’s dismissive of the feelings of students of color,” Crockettsaid. “This says to me that he doesn’t understand these two issues as in some ways unrelated, but deserving of time and attention in and of themselves.”
The discussion led by Eisgruber will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the University Chapel.
Associate news editor Ruby Shao contributed reporting.