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Eisgruber, administrators talk free speech, DOE investigation, and Indigenous representation at town hall

<h5>University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

In a wide-ranging town hall yesterday, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and top administrators answered student questions about their plans to address systemic racism and promote racial equity and inclusion. Topics ranged from the University’s free speech policy on racial epithets to affinity spaces and faculty diversity. 

The discussion saw very little direct engagement from the student body. Only two questions came from students who identified their names. Neither question included an on-camera exchange. One participant anonymously posited that the lack of participation might have reflected the fact that some students “have not felt heard in the past and still feel ignored and undervalued by administrators.”

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The event began with discussion of the Department of Education’s (DOE) civil rights investigation into the University. One student asked whether Princeton faces specific allegations of racism and whether Nassau Hall is complying with the investigation in a manner that protects student privacy.

Pushing back against the investigation’s premise, President Eisgruber said, “It is very surprising to me, frankly, that the Department of Education thinks that because Princeton has stated that we want to address systemic racism that we are somehow admitting ... there is something wrong in our community that requires intervention from the federal government.”

Eisgruber said he is not aware of any civil rights violations that the University had committed.

“I am not aware of instances where the University has discriminated unlawfully against individuals, and we will explain that to the government,” Eisgruber said.

Prominent legislators and 90 college and university presidents have expressed a similar sentiment in calling for an end to the DOE’s investigation.

The focus shifted to the University’s policy on hate speech, specifically the use of racial epithets. The question: under which circumstances the University would sanction a student’s use of slurs.

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The questions came after a July incident, in which a student used the n-word in an online exchange. He faced no discipline from the University.

Eisgruber began by denouncing such language. “In general,” he said, “no one should ever use a racial epithet. They are wrongful, they are damaging, and they are hurtful.”

In terms of policy, however, he expressed support for expansive free speech protections and warned against the dangers of policing speech. “Our speech policy, which I support,” he added, “has very limited exceptions in it, and the fact of something being extremely offensive is not one of those exceptions.”

Later in the evening, the conversation turned to how the University supports Indigenous students. A student asked about how the University plans to improve Indigenous representation, given that Indigenous students comprise less than 0.2 percent of the student body.

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Dean of the College Jill Dolan spoke about recent initiatives to recruit Indigenous students. According to Dolan, Dean of Admission Karen Richardson ’93 has convened a diversity outreach team, which works with the Native American and Indigenous student task force.

Dolan said that student ambassadors from the organization have participated in “Why Princeton” recruitment events, in an effort to reach prospective Indigenous students.

Speaking more broadly about Indigenous recognition on campus, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter outlined the University’s plans to include a land acknowledgement marker on campus. Later in the evening, she stated that the land acknowledgment “will be put in place.”

Yesterday’s town hall was followed by a similar event for graduate students, held today from 6:30-8:00 p.m. EDT. Another event for staff and faculty will be held on Oct. 29 from 2:30-3:30 p.m. EDT.

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