Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS!

‘Tired of committees’: Students demand re-naming of Wilson School, reparations, and anti-racist curriculum

<h5>Robertson Hall, home of the School of Public and International Affairs.</h5>
<h6>Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Robertson Hall, home of the School of Public and International Affairs.
Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian

In April 2016, the University announced that both Wilson College and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (WWS) would continue to bear the name of former University and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879. In keeping Wilson’s name, the University rejected a central demand the Black Justice League (BJL) had raised the previous November.

Nearly five years after the BJL brought national attention to Wilson’s racism, students are once again calling on administrators to divorce the Wilson School from its namesake, as well as demanding that the WWS pursue reparations and place anti-racism at the center of its curriculum.


This week, two groups of WWS students — including over three quarters of undergraduate concentrators in the Class of 2020 and more than 450 students and alumni of the graduate program — submitted demands for anti-racist action to WWS and University administrators.

In a letter released Monday morning, President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 instructed the University Cabinet — a group of senior University leaders that includes WWS Dean Cecilia Rouse — “to identify specific actions that can be taken in their areas of responsibility to confront racism.” While the University had convened several task forces over the past decade to study these issues, Eisgruber noted that it had not “focused on eliminating racism,” the charge he gave to Cabinet members this week.

Over the next 48 hours, Wilson School students published two open letters, both prepared prior to Eisgruber’s announcement. The first, signed by over half of current WWS students and 76 percent of Wilson School concentrators in the Class of 2020, calls on the School to drop its namesake. Additionally, the signatories demand that the School encourage the University to formally divest from private prisons and urge the University to pay reparations for its ties to slavery.

The second petition, released the next day and signed by over 450 graduate students and alumni of the master’s and doctoral programs, urges alterations to the WWS master’s program curriculum and demands the School diversify its faculty — including through the creation of a “Center for Anti-Racist Policy.” The graduate students also demanded the University commit 5 percent of its endowment toward reparations, divest from the prison system, cut ties with the Princeton Police Department, and defund the Department of Public Safety.

Ally McGowen ’21, a signatory of the undergraduate-focused letter, described the petitions as “two different efforts with the same goal, coming at it from two different angles.”

In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, University Spokesperson Ben Chang acknowledged and thanked the signatories of both letters, writing that WWS leadership anticipates meeting with them.


“We welcome the ideas and input of all members of the Princeton community on the critical issues of racism, equity, and justice — as they apply to our own campus and throughout the nation,” he wrote.

“As President Eisgruber said in his letter to the community earlier this week (June 22), ‘As a University, we must examine all aspects of this institution — from our scholarly work to our daily operations — with a critical eye and a bias toward action,’” he added.

“We thank the authors and signatories of the recent letters to University officials for doing just that — raising important questions and urging us all to examine what more [...] Princeton can do to meet this moment in history,” Chang said. “The leadership of the Woodrow Wilson School looks forward to meeting with the students to listen to their suggestions and share some plans for the upcoming year.”

Both groups of signatories emphasized that many of their proposals are not new. The undergraduate petition “reiterates the demands of the BJL” — the group of students that led the 2015 sit-in of Eisgruber’s office in Nassau Hall — “including the public acknowledgement of the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and the removal of his name from the School.” 

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

The graduate-student petition cites a 2017 letter to Rouse — signed by over 100 Master of Public Affairs (MPA), Master of Public Policy (MPP), and PhD students — that called on the Wilson School to expand course offerings on race and identity, plan diversity trainings for students, and prioritize the hiring of lecturers who “add racial, gender, and national diversity to the current WWS roster.” 

MPA student Abyssinia Lissanu GS ’16 said she was pleased President Eisgruber acknowledged that systemic racism cannot be met with quick fixes. Lissanu, however, expressed skepticism about the University’s commitment to enacting change — especially when administrators have been “extremely resistant” to previous demands for action.

“It’s not just George Floyd’s death, Breonna Taylor’s death, Tony McDade’s death. Why did you all start caring now, when we’ve been asking for these things since as long as I’ve been at Princeton?” said Lissanu, who has spent eight years at the University as an undergraduate and Wilson School MPA student.

“Today [Rouse] released an email saying ‘We’re ready; we’re listening; we’re eager to work on these issues.’ Where was all that energy two years ago? Where was all that energy last year?,” she added.

According to Chang, the University sees the killings of Floyd, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks — “together with the outsize[d] impact of COVID-19 on Black and brown Americans” — as bringing into focus “the role we all must play in confronting racism and the ongoing history of oppressive violence against Black Americans.”

The Wilson name

As president of the University, Wilson actively prevented Black applicants from matriculating, writing, “It is altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton.” Wilson carried his racism to the Oval Office, where he dismissed 15 of 17 Black supervisors previously appointed to federal jobs. His Cabinet re-segregated federal offices and limited opportunities for Black Americans. Wilson also infamously screened “The Birth of a Nation,” a racist film that the Ku Klux Klan used as a recruiting tool, in the White House.

Earlier this month, the trustees of Monmouth University voted to remove Wilson’s name from its marquee building, citing Wilson’s “racist policies” and reinstitution of segregation in the federal workforce. Woodrow Wilson High School in nearby Camden is also dropping the former president’s name.

Protesters after the sit-in in the President's office. Courtesy of Joanna Anyanwu '15 GS.

In 2015, after a two-day BJL protest — culminating in a 32-hour sit-in in Nassau Hall — Eisgruber agreed to write to then-chair of the Board of Trustees Katie Hall ’80 to initiate conversations about removing Wilson’s name from campus buildings. 

In 2016, the Trustee Committee on Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy at Princeton released a report recommending that both the WWS and Wilson College “should retain their current names and that the University needs to be honest and forthcoming about its history.” Following the committee’s recommendation to recognize “Wilson’s failings and shortcomings as well as the visions and achievements that led to the naming of the school and the college,” the University erected “Double Sights” — an installation meant to explore Wilson’s “complex legacy.” Over 200 students, faculty, and alumni protested at the installation’s dedication last October.

In addition to calling for the removal of the Wilson name from the School, the undergraduate petitioners originally planned to call for the immediate removal of “Double Sights.” They changed course, however, after speaking with the marker’s architect, Walter Hood.

“He really envisioned this place — as he said during the unveiling — as a place of civic conversation. He wanted it to be a place of debate and protest,” McGowen said. “Whereas from a student perspective, it very much felt like they were trying to shut down the conversation — saying, ‘We’ve done our job, and you can’t say we haven’t addressed racism now.’”

Walter Hood 2
Walter Hood discusses “Double Sights.”
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Instead, the finalized letter demands a “critical intervention [...] beginning with the School’s funding for a recurring student-led symposium responding to the marker.”

“It might be a better step to reassess Double Sights and what we can do with that — whether that’s putting up a second sculpture that’s in conversation with it, whether that’s putting up a plaque better explaining to someone who may not know about the 2015 protests,” McGowen added. “Our decision to phrase it as ‘critical intervention’ allows us to reassess it while also keeping the door open for removal, if that’s what the final decision is. It’s this conversation that needs to be had with the University and more students.”

In his statement to the ‘Prince,’ Chang wrote that the Board of Trustees is discussing the University’s anti-racism initiatives and will continue doing so “at a special meeting later this month as well as at regularly scheduled meetings thereafter.” 

“Those discussions provide the Board with an opportunity to consider the recommendations in the 2016 report on Woodrow Wilson’s legacy in light of current circumstances,” he added.

Yet, in a moment when symbolic changes are sweeping the country — from the repudiation of Wilson’s name at Monmouth to the nationwide removal of Confederate statues — both student groups pointedly emphasized substantive transformation over symbolic gesture. 

“The way that we went about the letter was to include but not to center [Wilson’s name],” said Janette Lu ’20, who helped draft the undergraduate-focused letter. “It was also very important for us as allies — doing this work out of the practice of allyship — to also center the demands involving faculty, divestment, reparations, academic changes, and pedagogical changes, as well as de-centering his name.”

“Even if you remove the name, that doesn’t mean anti-Black racism is going to go away on campus,” explained Harshita Rallabhandi GS, who helped draft the graduate students’ letter. “There are institutions out there without the names of white supremacists and who continue to be racist, you know?”

Chang emphasized that President Eisgruber has formally charged every member of the University’s Cabinet — the institution’s senior-most academic and administrative leaders — “to identify specific actions that can be taken in their areas of responsibility.”

“The charge now is to ‘seize this tragic and searing moment in American history to ask how we can more effectively fight racism — through our teaching and research, through our operations, and through our interactions and partnerships with those around us,’” he added.

Adopting an anti-racist curriculum

Both the undergraduate and graduate students see adjusting the Wilson School curriculum as crucial to achieving change.

“A policy school can, and must, be on the forefront of dismantling systemic racism in this country. The way that we’re taught, the professors we have, the classmates we’re surrounded by — all these things need to be very intentional and thoughtful,” Lissanu said.

The over 450 graduate students called on the Wilson School to “undergo an anti-racist transformation of the curriculum by Fall 2021.” In part, this overhaul would include the addition of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) requirement — a proposal, discussed earlier this year, that takes inspiration from the undergraduate Culture and Difference distribution requirement. 

Similarly, undergraduates have demanded the addition of a core requirement or prerequisite for WWS concentrators that addresses power, race, and identity. Their letter proposes a list of such courses, which includes options such as “Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America,” “The Modern Middle East,” and “Colonial and Postcolonial Africa.”

They also demanded the creation of an “undergraduate senior thesis prize awarded annually to one or more graduating seniors whose work has ‘pushed the boundaries and enlarged the scope of our understanding of issues of race’” to both reward and encourage research into topics of race and identity.

Ananya Malhotra ’20 said that, with signatories coming entirely from the Wilson School — including over three quarters of its graduating senior class  — the demands for curricular change felt especially “close to home.” 

According to Malhotra, “This is a home department for these students, and they’re saying they want these changes, saying we haven’t learned enough and we want to learn more — we want to learn more [from] these other amazing parts of campus we feel aren’t represented in this interdisciplinary liberal arts major for students interested in public service.’”

Calls for an anti-racist curriculum, she said, stem from what the students believe to be the School’s failure to “equip people to be able to make anti-racist policies.”

“We’re all going to be future policymakers,” Rallabhandi added. “We’re all going out into the world to make policy, and [yet] we are being taught things that do not even address racism and structures of racism within America.”

Rallabhandi cited the lack of dedicated courses on the history of colonialism and a limited offering on racial democracy as the shortcomings that could result in policies that “intentionally or inadvertently” hurt Black communities and other communities of color.

“That’s just not acceptable anymore,”  she said. “We have no lens, even though we’ve been asking for it. We know where the gaps are.”

Rallabhandi argued that despite a heavy focus on economics and statistics, the curriculum and pedagogy fail to address questions through the lens of racial inequity. As the graduate students note in an addendum attached to their letter, “Just as we would not accept a single ‘two-hour workshop’ or lone elective to adequately teach Economics, Statistics, Politics, or Psychology, we do not accept the current dearth of anti-racist and justice-focused courses in our curriculum.”  

The graduate students have further called on the WWS to “establish and generously fund a Center for Anti-Racist policy.” Author and historian Ibram X. Kendi recently founded such a center at Boston University. The graduate students write that the School “lauds itself for partnering with 21 centers on campus to fuel cutting-edge thinking and research, yet there is no center focused on dismantling racism.”

Such a center, they argue, could “create a pipeline for faculty who specialize in anti-racist policymaking.” Their letter also calls for the naming of an “Anti-Racist Policy Fellow” annually.

In her own Monday morning letter, released soon after Eisgruber’s, Rouse wrote that she is “interested in asking hard questions about our program and seeking creative ways to bring new insights to our curriculum and scholarship.” 

Cecilia Rouse
Former SPIA Dean Cecilia Rouse.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

“Our mission calls us to dedicate ourselves to integrating world-class scholarship and a commitment to service in order to make a positive difference in the world. Therefore, I embrace President Eisgruber’s call,” she added

The University recently allocated funding for anti-racist research and put out a call for faculty members to submit proposals for research projects on topics of race and racism. Additionally, the new Princeton RISE grant program provides resources to students who wish to engage in summer work that addresses racial injustice. In referencing these initiatives, Eisgruber conceded that the University still “must do more.”

“As President Eisgruber told the Cabinet, Princeton has a responsibility to stand up against racism and to bring its scholarly and teaching resources to bear to create a more just and equal society,” Chang noted. 

Lissanu agreed. Though she recognized that “this funding matters” and commended the University’s support for summer internships that focus on anti-racism, she said the University could be doing more and “should also be hiring people who do this kind of research.” 

“Princeton needs to be expanding its pool of who to look to hire because students are interested in these kinds of classes,” she added. “As a student who was interested in Latin America, Africa, and the developing world, it always felt like there were not enough classes.”

Both letters also call for the hiring of more Black faculty in the Wilson School. As of the 2019-20 academic year, four percent of full professors at the University were Black, compared to nine percent of undergraduates. In the undergraduate petition, students also noted that only one Black professor teaches a core requirement class in the Wilson School’s undergraduate program and demanded “the intentional hiring of more Black faculty and faculty of color.”

Citing the same statistic, the graduate students demanded “that the School ensure 25 percent or more of its affiliate professors are Black by the end of 2022” and “expand the number of departments it is affiliated with,” thus allowing more graduate students to take African American studies courses geared toward policy.  

The graduate students also urged the University to include adjunct faculty and lecturers when reviewing and approving the master’s program curriculum. Currently, only tenured faculty members may take part in that process. Petitioners wrote that the group is “dominated by white men” and fails to represent the diversity of the student body or populations the faculty aim to serve. 

They also made clear that teaching and learning about race extends beyond new courses and hiring new faculty — with graduate students demanding that “anti-racist frameworks be incorporated as core components to policymaking in our courses.” Specifically, they demanded a plan to teach anti-racism within the graduate-core required courses by Fall 2021.

Lissanu said that while professors at large generally stick to teaching on their expertise, many “only know white male authors.” During both her undergraduate experience and time in the Wilson School’s graduate program, Lissanu says her international relations curriculum has failed to incorporate diverse viewpoints.

While many of her courses aimed to “see both sides” of issues, she said they left out important perspectives. In one instance, for an assignment on the ethics of drone warfare in the Middle East, Lissanu’s international relations class presented divergent opinions from white male Americans — but no readings from the people who experience the strikes.

“Basically all of my professors just rely on white male authors over and over, which is a very specific viewpoint of the world and a very specific viewpoint of seeing politics,” she said. “How can that be indicative of what everything should be, or what I as a scholar of international relations should be doing and thinking?”  

Interviewed graduate students emphasized that existing faculty must learn about systemic racism and familiarize themselves with anti-racist research. Domestic policy student Clarke Wheeler GS noted that while she believes anti-racist literature is overlooked nationwide, there is no shortage of resources to consult.

Wheeler added that in her discussions with peers, “a few of us have realized we’ve gone a year without hearing the words ‘institutionalized racism,’ or ‘structural racism,’ or ‘systemic racism’ in our core courses — or in any course.”

“Our administration and our faculty are responsible for bringing that into the classroom — being humble and doing the urgent learning they need to do to more urgently teach us what we need to learn,” she added. “At the end of the day, in 2020, not including the phrases like ‘institutionalized racism’ — or ‘racism’ in general — in the coursework no matter what the course is — seems inexcusable.”

As described in the letter, the graduate students feel the program fails to equip students with tools to advance racial equity — “the very reason” many of them pursued graduate school in the first place. For many students interviewed by the ‘Prince,’ the need to revise the curriculum is pressing.

“The School should really see this as an urgent issue,” Wheeler said. “Alumni … are tasked with dealing with really huge social problems and don’t even have the vocabulary or the toolkit to address these issues — and supposedly have graduated from one of the strongest policy programs in the country.” Wheeler said.

“This program, and the broader University, are graduating people into this world that are tasked with leading us and changing the world, and they can’t do it. They’re unable to do it,” she added. “They don’t even know on an interpersonal level how to talk about race, let alone make decisions about race that will impact millions of people.”

The graduate petition also calls for more diversity among its student body. According to the University’s statistics, in 2019, 43 percent of the entering class of over 650 graduate students were minority students and 28 percent identified as low-income and/or first-generation college students — the “most diverse class” yet. 

The petitioners, however, call upon the University to disaggregate admission demographic statistics to account for the range of experience among Black communities, citing University research that shows multi-generational African Americans are underrepresented at selective universities compared to Black international students and first-generation citizens.

“Princeton does a very good job recruiting Black immigrant students, which is a good thing,” Lissanu said. “But there are many Black students they’re not reaching … We need Black students from all walks of life. Black students are not a monolith.”

Eisgruber’s Monday morning letter tasks University Cabinet members in part with exploring how the University can learn from and partner with organizations and communities in New Jersey and beyond to “cooperate productively to fight racism.” In a related subpoint of their seventh demand, the graduate student petitioners wrote that they hope the School continues to engage with organizations that center Black students — citing the University of California’s collaboration with Historically Black Colleges and the University of Chicago’s student-led recruitment program as examples. 

Additionally, the graduate students called for the Admissions Office to require applicants to complete a “diversity statement” — a requirement in place at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, wherein students must describe how they have addressed institutional racism and how they will do so campus. By writing such a statement, they argued, the School could attract students committed to anti-racism and equity.

They also called on the University to eliminate the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) requirement — citing research that suggests the GRE “is poor at selecting the most capable students and severely restricts the flow of women and minorities into the sciences.” Fourteen University departments dropped the GRE requirement in 2019, but the Wilson School still requires applicants to submit a GRE score. 

Eisgruber Ban the Box

Eisgruber interacts with Ban the Box protestors at a CPUC meeting. 

Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The graduate students call on the WWS to “Ban the Box” — removing the question that requires applicants to report any criminal record. Students for Prison and Education Reform (SPEAR), a group of undergraduates on campus, has advocated for “Banning the Box” for over five years. At past Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meetings, Eisgruber has argued against banning the box — saying he does not “see reasons to … ignore entirely evidence that somebody has engaged in criminal activity.”  Advocates for Banning the Box cite the criminal justice system’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. 

Lissanu expressed hope that some of the students’ short-term policy proposals — when it comes to hiring faculty of color, admitting students dedicated to anti-racist work, and funding research on topics of race and identity — could catalyze long-term change.

“We’d like to see the curriculum improve now,” she said. “But when we hire diverse faculty who are studying different, interesting, new things, that will produce research that will be interesting for years and years to come.”

Lissanu also noted that while she considers the demands in both petitions a step in the right direction, the fundamental challenge comes down to “being comfortable with being uncomfortable” — something that no one proposal or petition could accomplish alone  More broadly, she said that students and the Wilson School need to “become comfortable doing things that take time.”

“I appreciated that President Eisgruber’s email [Monday] talked about that, because we need to ask the tough questions,” she added. “My sense is that Princeton often looks for an easy solution … We have to continue asking ourselves, ‘What do we want long-term?’”

In her email to WWS concentrators and graduate students, Rouse wrote that she has spent her “entire career thinking about” the issues of racism and injustice and “deeply believe[s]” that real diversity is critical for meaningful and effective policy making.”

“As a black woman in a field where there are few of either, I have worked to shape economics into a field not solely represented by white men,” she wrote.

Rouse added, “I believe we have already made progress, and acknowledge we need to go further.”

‘Newer to the deans’: Reparations, prison divestment, and police abolition

While some of the demands are more narrowly focused on the WWS itself, others extend into the University’s role in broader systems — “pieces that are more inspired by the Movement for Black Lives,” as Wheeler put it.

“A lot of people across the country are realizing that anti-Blackness is institutional — it’s structural, it’s systemic — and that there’s space to challenge all of our institutions and structures in this moment,” she added. “We wanted to sort of draw that linkage to people.”

Both petitions demand a commitment to funding reparations, citing the University’s long history of participating in the institutions of American slavery. The University’s first nine presidents — who served for more than a century, from 1747 to 1854 — all held slaves. Sixteen of the University’s 23 founding trustees — and all seven of the original trustees of the College of New Jersey — “bought, sold, traded, or inherited slaves during their lifetimes.”

The undergraduate letter demands the funding of an “interdepartmental faculty-student research team/task force” — including members from the African American Studies and History departments — to recommend reparation policies to the University. The letter urges reparations be paid to the descendants of enslaved people owned by University Presidents and donors, in addition to the historically black Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.

On the other hand, the graduate students specifically called for “5 percent of [the University’s] $26 billion endowment” to be set aside for the descendants of every enslaved person owned by the University’s Presidents and Trustees. The specific figure cited by the graduate students “has precedence,” and the students do not wish to negotiate the figure, according to Rallabhandi.

A group of seminarians stand behind a reparations protest banner.
Courtesy of Archange Antoine

In October 2019, Princeton Theological Seminary became the second theological institution in the nation to approve a program of reparations, committing 27.6 million dollars of its approximately one billion dollar endowment — or just under three percent.

Rallabhandi believes that not only is five percent “a really small ask,” but that the University should be leading other institutions in its commitment to reparations. Wheeler added that the University “has recognized its role in and ties to slavery” — pointing to the University’s Princeton & Slavery Project, which in part informs her view that the University cannot disentangle its “immense wealth” from historical ties to slavery. 

“Other institutions have done it. Other institutions will do it for sure, and so it makes sense for Princeton to be a leader in this space given the immense wealth that the University has,” Wheeler added.

The letters from both the undergraduates and graduate students call for complete divestment from the prison-industrial complex, including private prisons and private-prison affiliates.

In 2016, 183 faculty members across the University signed a petition demanding that the CPUC and the Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO) dissociate and divest from corporations that “draw profit from incarceration, drug control and immigrant deportation policies.”

In 2018, Nassau Hall issued a report in response, which indicated that the University “has not invested for many years — either directly or indirectly — in the 11 detention corporations, private prisons or affiliated contractors from which the student coalition recommended divestiture.” The committee tasked with determining whether the University should formally divest, however, split over that central question. “Given the lack of consensus,” the members were “of the shared view” that they could not recommend divestment.

In their recent petition, the undergraduates wrote, “As a policy school, we should be acutely aware of how policymakers have created and perpetuated our oppressive criminal justice system.” They added, “We must view this moment, which so clearly reveals the fractures in our system and those whom it leaves behind, as a crucial opportunity to reimagine how policy might now be used to help rectify the crises that generations of policymakers have created.”

The graduate letter further demanded the University cut ties to the Princeton Police Department and defund the Department of Public Safety. 

“American policing was designed to oppress Black communities and continues to do so today,” they wrote — echoing nationwide calls to defund police departments across the country. Instead, the students called for the funding to be shifted to “mental health, de-escalation, and other campus services that holistically deliver public safety.”

While many of these broader proposals — reparations and police abolition in particular — may be “newer to the deans,” Wheeler said that the graduate students hope the University “can be a leader in this space.”

“If they’re not the ones trying to challenge things, bring new ideas, bring fresh ideas, then we’re just perpetuating old things that our fathers, grandfathers, and whoever thought were good ideas,” Lissanu added. “If a policy school is not engaged in radical thinking, what is it doing?” 

Though not commenting specifically on those proposals, Chang noted that by tasking every member of the University Cabinet with identifying actions that can be taken in their areas of responsibility, “the President has signaled that every aspect of the University’s life – from teaching to research to operations to partnerships – can and must address these issues.” 

While the graduate students’ demands are directed toward the University itself, the undergraduate letter calls on the Wilson School administration to push the University toward private prison divestment and reparations. On this point, McGowen emphasized what she sees as the Wilson School’s unique obligation to take action.

“To be having classes on racial justice and race policy, but then on the back end — the hypocrisy of benefiting from a corrupt justice system — doesn’t really make sense,” McGowen said. “It is powerful for the policy school to encourage the University to cut ties because they’re educating the next set of policymakers, and the next set of legislators.”

Malhotra added that though some of the undergraduate demands may lack familiarity, the support that the petition has garnered shows they are not “fringe demands.”

“Even with some of the demands that some people may consider more radical being made upon the Woodrow Wilson School, the assertion cannot be made that this is a fringe demand, a fringe desire, or a very small group who wants these things,” Malhotra said. “This isn’t a small group. It’s the majority of us.”

Next steps

On Monday, Eisgruber asked the Cabinet — Rouse included — to submit reports by August 21, noting that the group will come together in late August to develop plans for implementation. In addition to planning to meet with the student petitioners, Chang noted that administrators will engage with the community at large.

“We will be communicating with the Princeton community as [...] we make progress on these issues,” he wrote. “We are going to do this with care, thoughtfulness, analysis, and engagement from all our constituencies over the coming weeks and months.”

Though both groups of petitioners hope for prompt responses — the undergraduates urged the University to answer their demands by July 6 — they acknowledged that their demands require time and sustained commitment. Rallabhandi, Wheeler, and Lissanu, however, all expressed frustration with what they see as a slow-moving, bureaucratic administration, which rarely acts upon student concerns.

“We want specific responses to each of these demands, and we want specific ways to operationalize each of these demands,” Rallabhandi said. “And not like platitudes … like all the letters that we’ve been sent all these times.”

“We’re tired of committees,” Lissanu added.

To this point, Chang wrote that “by calling on the Cabinet to identify specific actions to advance these goals, President Eisgruber ensures that the University can move both thoughtfully and with urgency.”

Moving this process along, according to the organizers, will require bringing in more students, faculty, and alumni — beyond the combined 600-plus initial signatories associated with the Wilson School. Wendy Gomez GS added that the graduate students “want to engage a wider student body,” knowing that it would take “a great push” for the University to consider some of the demands — especially the calls for prison-industrial divestment and reparations, among others.

“We don’t want to be the gatekeepers of activism on campus and so we are putting out calls to engage our greater student body and alumni. Especially with alumni we know their degree carries a lot of weight with the school and so we are looking for ways to engage them and collectively hold the [University’s] feet to the fire until these demands are met,” Gomez wrote to the ‘Prince.’

In addition to communicating with primarily Black campus affinity groups, the Class of 2020 graduates have begun campaigning for their demands on social media — looking to engage other students, alumni, and potential University applicants, particularly those drawn to the Wilson School. 

When the Wilson School posted Rouse’s original letter on Instagram on Monday, over two hundred students left comments reiterating the undergraduates’ demands or linking to the “changewwsnow” account — which directs students toward a centralized website and a petition. This petition — affiliated with the undergraduate demands — had garnered over 1,300 online signatures as of Thursday, June 25.

Although the demands in both petitions may take years to realize, Rallabhandi emphasized the need for meaningful change at this moment — arguging that students “don’t want another committee and another four years.”

“The University heard these demands before,” McGowen added. “It’s all about applying pressure at this point.”

Associate News and Features Editor Marie-Rose Sheinerman contributed reporting.