After two hundred hours and several days of rain, on Wednesday, May 15, Princeton Students for Title IX Reform’s (PIXR) sit-in in front of Nassau Hall has come to a close.
For over a week, beginning on May 7, these student activists had weathered thunderstorms and cold nights during reading period.
“At the 200th hour, we must now value our health and well-being, since the University has made it clear through placations, delays, and refusals to make public actionable commitments that they will not address this crisis with due urgency,” K Stiefel ’20, one of the organizers of the protests, announced to several dozen protesters in front of Nassau Hall.
The activism against the University’s Title IX process, however, does not end there. PIXR has vowed to have a presence during this year’s P-Rade, which occurs on Saturday, June 1. The students will reconvene everyday in front of Nassau Hall at 4 p.m. to count down the days until the P-Rade.
This particular demonstration comes in the wake of a wave of alumni support to not donate to the University’s Annual Giving campaign until the protesters’ demands are met. At the time of publication, the pledge has garnered over 1,300 signatures.
The announcement about the end of the sit-in had immediately followed a demonstration in front of Prospect House, where several dozen protesters gathered while University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 met with six representatives of the protesters inside the building. According to a PIXR statement, this meeting was off-the-record.
“It is reassuring that Eisgruber and Calhoun are no longer pretending that we do not exist,” Stiefel said to the protesters after the private meeting. “Acknowledging six students in private meetings and attempting to refuse to discuss our community call to action is not meeting our demands. But we will take this victory.”
These representatives were Tori Gorton ’21, Rebecca Sobel ’19, Ananya Joshi ’19, Madeleine LeCesne ’19, Kirit Limperis ’19, and Aisha Tahir ’21.
This meeting with Eisgruber marks the protesters’ first formal interaction with the University president during the sit-in, several days after PIXR called for Eisgruber’s signature on three actions. On the third day of the sit-in, the protesters had set up two chairs in front of Nassau Hall, one chair for Eisgruber and another for Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun.
Over the past week, the University has issued several actions and statements in response to the protesters. For instance, on May 14, Calhoun, along with the University Student Life Committee and the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct, met with PIXR protesters. On May 10, Eisgruber, via a letter to Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity, authorized an external review of the Title IX office. Until Wednesday, May 15, however, Eisgruber had not addressed the protesters themselves.
After the meeting, Eisgruber released a statement to the University community, where he affirmed the University’s commitment to addressing the harms of sexual misconduct “through policies that are simultaneously fair, compassionate and effective” and acknowledged the necessity of student input.
“[W]e cannot succeed without the benefit of student input,” Eisgruber wrote.
Eisgruber, however, noted that policy changes must be made through the University’s governance process, which ensures that the University reforms its policies “in a way that is deliberative, well-informed, fair, and open to all views and perspectives.”
“It would be wrong to try to circumvent or override these processes in response to the urgings of a particular group, no matter how heartfelt or vigorously expressed its claims might be,” he wrote.
When asked for what they thought prompted today’s meeting with Eisgruber, Nathan Poland ’20 said that he hoped that Eisgruber’s “moral consciousness finally kicked in.” Micah Herskind ’19 added that he believed it was the pressure of the protests.
“He ignored us for as long as he could, and he can’t do that anymore,” Herskind said.
Before the meeting began at 4 p.m., the student activists had chanted “This Dean’s Date assignment is long overdue” and “We did the work — how about you?” in front of the building. In emails sent to various listservs, students were urged to wear University gear. Several seniors were even protesting in their caps and gowns, having just picked them up.
“Part of the expectation [coming into the meeting] is that we won’t keep on getting empty promises. That’s what the University loves is to make vague commitments to upholding vague values,” Herskind said.
Five open expression monitors and at least five officers from the Department of Public Safety stood outside Prospect House during the meeting, which lasted for a little over an hour.
As the meeting ended, student activists lined up on both sides of the driveway leading into Prospect House, holding signs that read “We Need Transformative Justice” and “Please Talk to Us,” to greet Eisgruber as he departed from the building.
Multiple activists also held signs that read “17 days,” which represented the number of days left until the P-Rade.
As Eisgruber left the building’s vicinity, the protesters began chanting “17 days” and marched to the front of Nassau Hall, where Stiefel and Sofie Kim ’20 announced the end of the physical sit-in. While there, Herskind also publicly announced the upcoming demonstration at the P-Rade and called for the protesters to clean up the grounds that they had occupied.
Shortly after the announcement, Poland alleged in an interview with The Daily Princetonian that he was reassigned from his job at Commencement as direct retaliation for his participation in the protest, especially since he had been in communication with Associate Secretary Christine Gage, his employer during Commencement for most of the semester.
“It’s really frustrating because I feel, much the same way as so many students at the University feel, where there is no where to turn to, no one that’s listening, no one’s that willing to be an advocate for us,” Poland said to the ‘Prince.’
In another email to Gage, which was obtained by The Daily Princetonian, Poland said that this reassignment would hurt him as a student on financial aid, who relies on the job and its hours to support himself. He also wrote that it was unacceptable to be informed about this change less than a month before the start of his assignment.
University spokesperson Ben Chang disputed the allegation and directed the ‘Prince’ to the initial email sent to Poland about his reassignment. In the email, Gage said that due to a “leadership transition” in June, there would be additional staff available that would make an intern not needed.
Chang confirmed that the leadership transition refers to the consolidation of the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President and Secretary, which was announced in September 2018. Chang also added that Poland’s reassignment will have no bearing on his pay, hours, or housing access.
Though the physical sit-in has ended, protesters are cautiously optimistic about the progress to come, noting that many students have lost faith in the administration during the sit-in. Multiple protesters explicitly showed distaste for Eisgruber’s actions — or lack thereof — throughout the protest.
“[Eisgruber] is here because we’re here, and if he doesn’t respond to students’ concerns, then there’s no point of him being here,” Lencer Ogutu ’20 said.
Despite the disappointment in the administration’s actions, several activists have praised the Title IX reform movement and the people who compose it. Poland noted that the protest allowed the activists to “find each other.” Kim echoed his sentiments.
“We can’t trust the University, but we can trust each other,” Kim said. “I think that’s one of the strongest things that have grown from this protest, and that is what going to continue to push us to work.”
This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 16 to include President Eisgruber’s statement concerning the Title IX reform protests. This statement was published before the story’s initial publication.