University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 rejected a proposal to provide a semester of housing and education for students currently attending college in Puerto Rico whose educational plans have been affected by Hurricane Maria.
In a Council on the Princeton University Community meeting today, CPUC member Diego Negrón-Reichard ’18 asked if the University is considering taking students in from Puerto Rico given the fact that, in the past, Princeton has hosted students otherwise displaced by crises such as Hurricane Katrina.
“In 2005, 24 Tulane undergraduate students were sent to Henry Hall and were here for a semester, and they said the support from Princeton was unbelievable, that the University made special outreach to [the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students] for them, and special funds were made available so they could have the Princeton experience,” Undergraduate Student Government Academics Chair Patrick Flanigan ’18 explained.
Eisgruber explained that the arrangement in 2005 was possible because of excess capacity and coincidental timing with regards to the academic calendar and that “those were rare circumstances, [namely] that we had housing then and we don’t exactly have it now.”
Eisgruber declined to comment on the University’s capacity to host in the spring,
The University was unable to provide confirmation of housing capacity, and Negrón-Reichard says that he doesn’t expect the written confirmation he asked the administration for. “The administration has not been able to answer the question of capacity; it was quite surprising that was the central argument used. Moving forward, we want confirmation that that’s actually the issue, as their blanket statement doesn’t hold, ” he said.
Even as the University declined to offer students a semester here, other colleges are offering assistance to Puerto Rican students. Tulane University, whose students were housed by the University in 2005, announced in October that “it would offer one free semester for Puerto Rican students as a way of ‘paying it forward,’ after Tulane’s students were taken in at other schools after Hurricane Katrina.”
In addition, schools such as Cornell University, Brown, and New York University will each host more than 50 students, tuition-free.
“Our hesitancy to offer this hosting is another item on the long list of scenarios in which Puerto Ricans are treated as second-class citizens. The University set this precedent in 2005; it’s a lot easier to ignore the precedent when the people you’re helping are marginalized people. The extent of damage in Puerto Rico resembles Katrina the closest, if not beyond, so the University should uphold precedent,” Negrón-Reichard said.
Along the same lines, Flanigan said, “Princeton has the opportunity to say that Puerto Ricans aren’t second-class citizens and send the message that Puerto Ricans are just as important as those affected by tragedies in the 50 states.”
Negrón-Reichard further pointed out that it was ironic that the University was ignoring the motto it recently modified by appending "and in the service of humanity" because "it is not just that we’re overlooking what it says, but who actually tweaked it — [Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor '76], a proud Puerto Rican herself.”
The USG Senate is expected to consider a resolution to encourage the University to provide a semester of education and housing to Puerto Rican students affected by the recent hurricanes during its next meeting on Nov. 19.
“This vote will be more symbolic, but it will show, as Princeton students, what we did, and if we did the right thing. This [refusal] is a stain on the current administration,” Negrón-Reichard said.
“It’s important, even if the president of the University takes a position that students disagree with, or is inherently wrong, that students express their opinion on a topic they take great issue with. I don’t think Eisgruber is necessarily wrong, but hopefully USG can offer the administration some options,” Flanigan further explained.
Flanigan also offered an example of another potential measure the University could take to assist college students in Puerto Rico. He stated that in 2005, “Princeton raised funds for Dillard University in Louisiana and offered 20 computers and hundreds of suites of furniture. This aid measure is not predicated on how much space we have.”
Flanigan remained optimistic about the possibility of the University taking action. “The resolution on Sunday is big step but also not the last step, so if we pass the resolution and nothing happens, don’t expect us to sit quietly. There are lots of steps at our disposal, to help those affected by this disaster.”