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On Feb. 26, 2018, the University published a “Statement About Applicants’ Right to Protest.” The University has stated that students who “act on their conscience in peaceful, principled protest will receive full consideration in our admissions process,” and that “If students are disciplined by their high school, they will be encouraged to augment their application to Princeton with a statement that addresses why they were moved to protest . . . .” The University is affirming students’ rights to protest in high school. Though the statement was released in response to the protests involving gun control, it seems noteworthy that the University seems to be affirming high schoolers’ rights to protest in cases that meet two criteria: the protest must be peaceful and principled.

One concern I have about the students’ right to protest is that it is unclear what the University might see as “peaceful” and what the University might see as “principled.” To look more closely at the matter, I examined the website of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and President Eisgruber’s remarks on protecting free speech on campus. It seems that the University’s conception of peaceful and principled protest is essentially in line with what you might intuitively expect: protest is fine so long as things are not actively disrupted. I also spoke with Malachi Byrd ’19, one of the students who confronted anthropology professor Lawrence Rosen during his first lecture, who was not punished in any way for his protest.

I appreciate that the University is reassuring students who protest that their admissions rights will be protected if they stand up for what they believe in, on all sides of the political spectrum. While it would probably be wrong to see the University’s statement at this time as an explicit endorsement of gun control, I also think and hope that the University’s statement at this time implicitly supports the gun control movement by giving University applicants the courage that they should speak their views regardless of possible disciplinary action. Given the number of protests planned in the next few days and weeks, this is a good step for the University to take. Even President Trump is now motioning that he would endorse bipartisan gun control, something that I, as noted in my last column, felt was an impossibility. I may be concerned that there will be some students who will view this as a carte blanche endorsement of all possible disciplinary actions that revolve around protests, or even that they should go out and protest solely to improve admissions possibilities.

If I do have a complaint, I feel that the University was more of a follower than a leader in issuing this statement. We were one of the later institutions to reaffirm our applicants’ rights to protest. What does this say about the institution’s commitments to issues of justice? Combined with the University’s lack of action when dealing with our own internal protests or issues such as sanctuary, I am concerned that this administration is not taking our national priorities seriously. It is encouraging to see the University taking on important roles like protecting DACA. Just as Princeton strives to cultivate leadership, so, too, ought we to demand leadership from the University in broader affairs.

This is part of a recurring weekly column on politics and pedagogy at Princeton and elsewhere.

Ryan Born is a philosophy concentrator from Washington, Mich. He can be reached at

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