University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 agreed to the modified demands of student protestors on Thursday evening.
He signed the document at about 8:20 p.m., approximately 32 hours after students in the Black Justice League began a sit-in in his office and after significant negotiations over the content of the demands.
Around 20 student protestors had been occupying Eisgruber’s office since Wednesday.
The “Walkout and Speakout” protest, organized by the BJL, began with a walkout from classes on Wednesday morning, then featured a march to Nassau Hall and a sit-in in Eisgruber’s office.
Students who occupied the office stayed there overnight. Some other students camped outside the building.
Eisgruber was not available for comment.
Student protest leaders Destiny Crockett ’17, Wilglory Tanjong ’18 and Dashaya Foreman ’16 read out the agreement in the Nassau Hall atrium shortly after the signing. Protestors cleared the building later in the evening.
Crockett deferred comment to Tanjong, Foreman and Esther Maddox ’17, who did not respond to requests for comment.
The final list addressed all three initial demands of the protestors, which included cultural competency training for faculty and staff and a diversity distribution requirement, a special space for black students, and the removal of the name of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, from the Wilson School and Wilson College.
According to the agreement, Eisgruber will write to chair of the University Board of Trustees Katie Hall ’80 to initiate conversations on removing Wilson’s name from campus buildings. He will also write to Head of Wilson College Eduardo Cadava to request that he consider removing Wilson’s mural from Wilcox dining hall.
The administration also agreed to immediately designate four rooms in the Fields Center for use by cultural groups, and promised to have members of the BJL involved in a working group to discuss the viability of forming black affinity housing.
Regarding the protestors’ third demand, a mandatory cultural competency training and diversity distribution requirement, Eisgruber will write to Dean of the Faculty Deborah Prentice to arrange a discussion on cultural competency training. The BJL will also discuss the possibility of enhancing such training for Counseling and Psychological Services staff with CPS Executive Director John Kolligian.
BJL members will also attend the General Education Task Force meeting in December to discuss the possibility of a diversity distribution requirement.
Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun were present at the meeting when the negotiations occurred.
Calhoun noted that both groups, students and administrators, made a lot of compromises from their initial positions to reach an agreement.
“I think the most important thing is that we all negotiated in good faith,” Dolan added. “There was a real willingness to be around the table, thinking together about very difficult issues.”
Dolan and Calhoun declined to comment on the content of the agreement.
The path to agreement began on Thursday at around 3:20 p.m., when Eisgruber, Dolan and Calhoun entered Eisgruber’s office to speak with the protestors.
Dolan said that although the group was able to reach a rough agreement with administrators at around 5 p.m., Eisgruber was unable to sign the agreement because of disagreements on some of the specific wording. Everyone involved rephrased certain sentences to produce a document that reflected their shared conclusions, she said.
Calhoun added that students and administrators needed time to meet separately and consider whether they could live with and honor the agreements. The next steps for her and other administrators to improve the experiences of students of color will be “hearing how they feel, hearing what they need and doing what we can, given how the University works.”
“I think the changes that the students are requesting are really systemic, and in order to make them happen, there’s a lot of procedures that have to be followed, which means it takes a lot of people doing a lot of work,” Dolan said.
Calhoun noted that many of the points discussed in the meeting were in fact part of the longstanding commitment of the University to better students’ lives in light of the Special Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s recommendations released last year. She said she believed the protestors were motivated to expedite the implementation of agendas that the University community had been thinking about.
During the negotiation efforts, students in the Nassau Hall atrium chanted, “We here, we been here, we ain’t leaving, we are loved,” and “No Justice, No Peace.” They also sang the song of the Freedom Trail in support of the students in Eisgruber’s office.
Teri Tillman ’16, a participant in the protest, described the second day as more constructive than the first.
Tillman said she had sat in Eisgruber’s office until around 4 p.m. on Wednesday and came to the atrium on Thursday at around 3 p.m.
Wednesday’s meeting with Eisgruber did not feature much of a discussion, she noted.
“It was more a moment of opposition, like our protestors yelling at President Eisgruber and Dean Dolan, and President Eisgruber taking a more defensive position, which wasn’t productive for either of the parties involved,” she explained. “Whereas today, since there are fewer bodies in the room, I feel like more discussion is happening, which logistically is more feasible, but we’re still being able to make a statement by having the bodies in the atrium.”
Megan Blanchard GS, who participated on Wednesday night for two hours and occupied Nassau Hall's atrium on Thursday from about 4 p.m. onward, said she and around 10 other graduate students had come to support the cause as well as the protestors themselves.
“We’re here to show our solidarity for the undergraduates,” she explained. The graduate students had coordinated through listservs and messaging to stay informed of new developments.
Blanchard pointed out that the climate made the protest’s second day different from the first.
“Because the weather is rainy, I think everyone’s just trying to really make sure that all of the students feel as supported as possible, to keep the energy up to stay here,” she noted.
Tillman said she had brought her schoolwork to the atrium, and that sitting at Nassau Hall had not really affected her social life. She added that she appreciated the protestors’ ability to focus on their studies, as current students still must graduate in order to make a difference with their degrees later on.
Tillman emphasized that the movement is about the entirety of Princeton.
“There are a lot of moments on campus and in the structure of buildings, in the structure of organizations, where people who are of certain forms of identity feel marginalized. They feel as though their voice isn't being heard as much as the majority,” she noted.
The greatest misunderstanding is that the protest is only for black students, Tillman said.
“Yes, the language is emphasizing the black experience right now,” she said. “But in the long run, in the larger context, it's about all marginalized people.”
Other students on campus, although not actively involved in the protest, have reacted to the protest as well.
Wilson School student Julia Reed GS said that she was impressed by the passion, dedication and willingness of students to speak out about what they believe in.
“They have a voice and a right to be heard,” Reed said.
Another Wilson School student, Asa Craig GS, said that it is critical that students have a voice in their school, to make the community more inclusive and diverse.
“We need to speak out against people who are leveling personal attacks at protestors and using racist language to put them down,” he said.
When asked about the prospect of changing the name of the Wilson School, Reed said that her thoughts on the situation were complex, and that people must think about the deeper issues behind the request. She added that students should consider why individuals are so upset about the issue.
“Speaking about the importance of having civil dialogue, you can’t come into a conversation already having decided that the people on the other side of the table have no views of any value,” she said.
Craig noted that it is important to investigate Wilson’s legacy.
“A university that fails to educate on its own history and the history of its country is failing in its mission,” Craig said. “People live this every day, and I think it’s important to ask: if we can’t talk about it, then how can we expect students to just ignore it and go to school?”
Iris Samuel ’19 said that while the later two of the BJL’s demands are valid, renaming the Wilson School is more problematic.
“We would be treating a very superficial aspect of the problem,” Samuel said. “Woodrow Wilson should be judged as a member of his time. I’m not saying his actions are legitimate, I’m saying that America as a whole was wrong.”
Samuel is a contributing columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
William Barksdale Maynard ’88, who published a book on Wilson titled “Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency” in 2008, also said that he does not think Wilson’s name should be taken down from the Wilson School and Wilson College.
Maynard noted that Wilson was born in the South before the Civil War, and that while his racial views were, by today’s standards, definitely deplorable, they were sadly typical by the standards of a century ago. He also said that Wilson, apart from his views on race, was considered a progressive educator and liberal southerner, and that through his work with the preceptorial system and the Honor Code he began the modernization of the University.
In light of hostile comments made anonymously online, Zhan Okuda-Lim ’15 called for students to exercise freedom of speech by engaging in constructive conversation physically and directly with the sit-in protestors.
“If members of the University community can take a step back and consider others’ viewpoints, that’s when we can start the process of healing,” Okuda-Lim said.
In an attempt to gather and quantify campus sentiments, Daniel Wilson ’18 created a TypeForm to record student perspectives on the demands raised by the BJL. The survey was circulated to undergraduate students via residential college listservs.
“I was unsatisfied with the informality and descent into disorganized debate that was brought about by using Yik Yak as the primary medium of communication,” Wilson said, noting that he wanted to see a numerically based view of the situation.
As of Thursday at 4 p.m., the database contained 538 responses. On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being the least favorable, the average rating for the efficacy of the sit-in protests was 3.77, while the rating for the BJL’s demands were 2.52 for removing Woodrow Wilson’s name, 5.19 for cultural competence training and courses, and 5.35 for a cultural space for black students.
News Editors Ruby Shao and Paul Phillips and Staff Writers Annie Yang and Jessica Li contributed reporting.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the response to a request for comment from University President Christopher Eisgruber '83.He was not available for comment after signing the agreement. The 'Prince' regrets the error.