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Photo Credit: Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The Indigeneity at Princeton Task Force was convened by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) this fall with the broad goal of reconciling Princeton University’s situation on the historic territory of the Leni Lenape with its current practices, which include very low Indigenous enrollment, limited opportunities for the study of Indigenous issues, and no formal land acknowledgement. We write to update the community on our work and to articulate the steps that the University must undertake to rectify these injustices. By raising these issues publicly, we hope to amplify our voices. It is clear from our over forty meetings that broad awareness of the current state of Indigeneity at Princeton is greatly needed to make significant progress.

Low Indigenous enrollment at Princeton is an inequitable and shameful phenomenon that has persisted for decades. In an article appearing in the ‘Prince’ in 2000, A-dae Romero ’02 identified that there were “as few as 10 [students] who identify themselves as part of the Native community.” Articles drawing attention to this phenomenon appeared again in 2004, 2010, and 2017. Native American students and alumni have repeatedly raised these concerns both privately and publicly to the administration, yet there are currently two active members of Natives at Princeton. We wonder how Princeton can win a national award for diversity and inclusion in this light.

Princeton is the only Ivy League university without an academic program in Native American or Indigenous Studies. Princeton has the resources to attract top-rate Indigenous senior faculty and could, within a short time frame, become a leading institution in this important discipline. Indigenous scholars are highly influential truth-seekers who have contributed significantly to dialogue surrounding climate change, gender and sexuality, and American history.

This fall, over 70 Princeton students are enrolled in courses explicitly centered on Indigenous topics, yet the University has no tenure-track Indigenous faculty to teach these courses. Moreover, perusing the database of junior papers and senior theses brings up thousands of titles for the terms “Native American” and “Indigenous,” yet the University has no department to assist these students with Indigenous Studies research methodologies.

Given the lack of Indigenous representation in the students, faculty, and curriculum, we should not be surprised that many Indigenous students who are accepted choose to go elsewhere. To resolve this, the Advancement Office and Office of the Provost ought to designate an endowed fund for an Indigenous Studies professorship and program during the upcoming capital campaign.

As members of the Undergraduate Student Government, we have examined ways in which the University can expand its commitment to support Native American and Indigenous students. This semester, we met with the Office of Admission and Office for College Opportunity, as well as Steven Abbott, Associate Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College. Based on these conversations, we believe that the Office of Admission should dedicate a full-time admissions officer to the recruitment of talented Native American and Indigenous students. We believe this action must be taken because Princeton has significant work to do if we are to create and support a healthy Indigenous community on campus.

Princeton is lagging far behind its peer institutions in commitment to creating a healthy Indigenous community on campus, and we believe this should not and does not have to be the case. Princeton's current system fails to adequately recruit Indigenous students, prevents many talented future Indigenous leaders from receiving the benefits of a Princeton education, and denies our campus the benefit of their knowledge, life experience, and diverse perspectives.

Princeton does not have a robust Indigenous community, especially when compared with the thriving communities that exist at peer institutions. There are several reasons, historical and contemporary, that have contributed to these imbalances. A significant factor is Princeton’s lack of a dedicated admissions officer for Indigenous students. Princeton’s current geography-based approach allows for admissions officers to gain knowledge of specific schools and regions. However, this system is not conducive to the formation of long-term expertise or relationships with tribal education departments, Native American college access programs, and Native students.

Princeton absolutely has the power to correct this issue; we believe that following in the footsteps of peer institutions such as Stanford (Sharen Kickingwoman, Blackfeet and Gros Ventre), Duke (Stephen McLaughlin), Dartmouth (Steven Abbott), Yale (Debra Johns), and the University of Pennsylvania (Tina Fragoso), among others, and creating a dedicated admissions officer for Indigenous students will support the creation of a more significant Indigenous presence on campus. 

The Office of Admission should aim to significantly increase the Native population at Princeton, especially as new residential colleges are built. An internal advocate can ensure that dynamic strategies are used to attract applicants and consult with other universities specifically on this subject. As citizens of sovereign tribal nations embodying a political — rather than a racial or ethnic — identity, recruitment of Native American students must look fundamentally different than recruitment of other minority groups. Native American students have different needs, concerns, and questions than non-Indian students, both with respect to the admissions process and to university life; in order to successfully recruit these students, the Office should have a point person for those questions.

Moreover, relationships are a critical factor. If Princeton is truly committed to creating a diverse campus, the University should demonstrate to Native American students that it truly wants them here. This can be done to some effect with items such as a Natives at Princeton admissions resource or a “Native American Research at Princeton” pamphlet, which a full-time officer could develop. We believe that these are important initiatives, but we also want to emphasize that face-to-face interactions are critical to building trust in Indigenous communities.

Having the same person working with a variety of partner organizations, some of which are outlined in this letter, will place Princeton in a positive light to key influencers, who help many students decide where they will apply. The full-time officer could also work to create a fly-in program in partnership with outside organizations based on the Dartmouth College or Amherst College model. The Office of Admission should look to form long-term partnerships with organizations such as the Indigenous Scholars of Promise program, College Horizons, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Intertribal Youth Summit, United National Indian Tribal Youth, and the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute Summer Policy Academy.

Signed,

The USG Indigeneity at Princeton Task Force

Gabriel Duguay ’22, Jessica Lambert ’22, Katharine Schassler ’21

Gabriel Duguay is a sophomore from Truro, Nova Scotia, and the Undergraduate Student Government Indigeneity at Princeton Task Force Chair. Jessica Lambert is a sophomore from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, and president of Natives at Princeton. Katharine Schassler is a junior from Chatham, New York. They can be reached at gduguay@princeton.edu, jessicalambert@princeton.edu, and kds3@princeton.edu, respectively.

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