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Unheeded and still unheard

<p>Whig Hall, the seat of political organizations on campus.</p>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>

Whig Hall, the seat of political organizations on campus.

Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

In late June, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC) published a letter that asked the University to reaffirm its commitment to upholding freedom of speech and thought. Since its release, we have been met with a deluge of dissent that misrepresents the arguments expressed in the letter.

Dylan Galt ’20 authored arguably the most deluded and hypocritical rebuttal to POCC yet. In doing so, Galt has squandered a productive opportunity for intellectual discourse by redefining the tenets of POCC in a manner palatable to his misinformed views and wholly lacking in academic integrity. His arguments, which lack legitimate reasoning, predictably degenerated to broad generalizations and mentions of policy changes that we neither endorsed nor rejected in the original letter.

Galt proves that he has not understood the POCC letter when he writes, “POCC does not offer a defense of free speech; rather, they pretend to be members of a disadvantaged minority and seek to obscure the truly marginalized voices on campus.” As two women of color and members of POCC, we’re writing to disprove this misconception and show Galt (and those alike) the hypocrisy in their myopic support of “diversity” on campus.

Our stories 

I, Bella, through the accounts of my family and personal experiences, have come to acknowledge the importance of freedom of speech, which has been ingrained in all aspects of my life by family members that underwent atrocities so that I could grow up in a country with these values in its foundation.

Half of my family is from Vietnam, a country that has nearly annihilated all shreds of individual autonomy. In post-war Vietnam, my widowed grandma, and her three children sought refuge from an oppressive regime that, to this day, viciously persecutes citizens who attempt to engage in free thought. When my dad finally came to the United States after being separated from his family for several months in a refugee camp, he went from being a starving child from an impoverished village to a successful American and veteran.

The other half of my family is from Cuba. The Cuban government has desecrated my grandparents’ churches, denied them education and jobs for not joining the Communist Party, cut off all independent media and news outlets, and threatened decade-long sentences in prison for not flying the Soviet flag outside their homes or for possessing a non-rationed can of beans. When my grandparents told me stories of their time on the island, I could hear the pain and fear in their voices, even though it had been decades since they fled. So when they emphasized taking full advantage of the privileges I was afforded in this country and told me to be dueña de mi propia lucha (the owner of my own fight), I took their words to heart. They warned me that making my convictions transparent wouldn’t always be well-received, but nonetheless, encouraged me to be firm in my beliefs.

I don’t think either side of my family could have predicted the shocking similarities between communist Vietnam and Cuba’s ideological intolerance and the regression of the United States’s current political climate, which now threatens life-altering consequences to those who unabashedly express themselves. This climate has led to the degradation of American values, normalizing hypocrisy that Galt claims is simply a figment of POCC’s imagination.

Many people of color, including myself, have been attacked by the self-proclaimed poster children of tolerance for expressing opinions deemed unacceptable. I have been accused of “wanting to be white” and “hating myself” for apparently stepping outside of the narrow category of “acceptable thought.” I have felt ostracized by peers who claim to “support disenfranchised minorities” and likewise have been made to feel like an outcast by teachers who should cultivate intellectual discourse.

Apparently, my experiences are irrelevant to those who have been protected by the vocal majority during their four years at Princeton. These people, rather than being open-minded, have simply inflated each other’s egos to the point where they believe they can deem someone else’s experiences as insufficient to warrant “marginalization” without even knowing them first.  Everything Galt and those who echo his sentiments condescendingly preach ironically ignores the core message of the POCC letter, which defends respect for every Princeton student’s freedom to speak about their own experiences. 

I, Rebekah, was raised in a Christian household, and I was exposed early on to a diversity of religions, schools of philosophical thought, and cultures through visiting various places of worship and historical sites and through discussions with my father. My father immersed me in the history of the United States and in the experiences of his country, Guyana. In his diverse motherland, Black people and Indigenous people, despite their cultural and religious differences, were able to engage in each other’s rituals and appreciate one another. My father has taught me the importance of respecting others for their differing beliefs.  He has also taught me to seek the truth like silver — with diligence and thoroughness. 

Unfortunately, my experiences in the United States presented a different experience. I was told, most frequently by those who are Black, that because I am Black, I am not supposed to be a “STEM-nerd.” I have to speak and look a certain way. I have to vote Democrat, and I am supposed to think that “old white men” are ruining my life. However, because I excelled in my classes, dressed a certain way, and expressed conservative views, I was told that “I act white” or that I am an “Uncle Tom,” which was ironic coming from white people trying to be “Black” by wearing sagging pants, snapbacks, and deliberately talking “ghetto.” It perpetuated a stereotype that Black people are inferior, while claiming to be “accepting” of us.

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In high school, I was judged for my opinions that went against the well-accepted narrative. It reached a point where some of my old friends from elementary school pretended to not know me. One time I was interviewed for my conservative stance on abortion, and the paper misrepresented me to suggest I was against women’s rights and health. But that did not deter me.

I started a club with a friend, a Muslim woman, with the aim of presenting conservative values in a liberal school, serving veterans, and facilitating discussions on controversial topics. It was a struggle to get the club approved by the administration, but we presented a compelling case that the school lacked a space which allowed all students to share their opinions without judgement. But semester after semester, students tore down posters the day after I hung them up and even belittled me for founding a club to perpetrate my “close-mindedness” and “bigotry.”  

By Galt’s logic, I am only pretending to be a member of a “disadvantaged minority.” I don’t qualify as a “truly marginalized” voice. Is it wrong to speak out against people who constantly tell me I should hate white people, when my entire existence comes from a slave owner copulating with a slave? Is it wrong to point out that I can think for myself when the society that preaches diversity and inclusion says otherwise? One can self-proclaim that they are experts or morally righteous, but they have failed to understand what it means to engage with their fellow peers if they are unable to question the content of an argument and to seek concrete evidence.

Our message to the Princeton community 

When we were given the opportunity of a lifetime to attend Princeton, we accepted with the understanding that this was a university committed to elevating and fostering meaningful discussions, debates, and collaborations. It’s unsettling to see people like Galt who believe their political ideologies place them on a moral high ground attempt to be the arbiters of free speech. Even more so, it’s truly upsetting to see those in fervent opposition to POCC resort to accusations of racism, rather than challenge the premise of the letter with substantive arguments.

Those who pride themselves on their extensive familiarity with “anti-racist reading” have conveniently turned a blind eye to the racism they perpetuate in their own community. From our perspective, “ex-communicating” minorities that don’t ascribe to the acceptable ideology is racist. Galt and others that have attacked POCC adopt the behaviors that they condemn by accusing people of racism for “denying experiences of the disenfranchised” despite having villainized dialogue with opposing viewpoints and made sweeping generalizations about an entire group of diverse people. They are the embodiment of the racism they claim to fight against. POCC does not advocate for a single political ideology and is meant to encourage students to engage in civil dialogues that will challenge their beliefs rather than keep them in their echo chambers. 

Princeton University has rightfully upheld freedom of speech, and we expect its students to do the same. We urge our community to be cognizant of its diversity — both racially and ideologically — but Galt’s words have left us doubtful of such an outcome. We hope Galt realizes the damage he has done to those he has tried to silence.  

Bella Hubble is a sophomore who plans on concentrating in chemistry with certificates in Turkish language and culture as well as translation and intercultural communication. She can be reached at ihubble@princeton.edu.

Rebekah Adams is a senior in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering pursuing a certificate in Engineering Biology. She can be reached at rebekaha@princeton.edu

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