One Saturday in my sophomore year, I ventured all the way from my room in Whitman College to the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding (CAF) to go study with some friends. I was inconvenienced, to say the least. Walking the more than half-mile in the famously-brisk New Jersey November weather was suboptimal. But I went all the way to CAF to study because I wanted to do something that I hadn’t done since I got on campus: study in their African American study space. Once I got there, snacks and water with me as I arrived, I had an underwhelming feeling of the space.
Already in the room were two other friends (both African American) whom we did not expect to be there. Luckily enough, we all knew each other so we had no problem studying together, but therein lies the problem. Why isn’t there enough space for our two groups to be able to study separately?
Had we not all known each other, and my friends who were already in the space had rightfully refused to move from the space they already occupied, this would have created a very “awkward” situation. The people with whom I came would either have to occupy another one of the rooms that had been designated for other groups or find another space altogether to study. While that wouldn’t have been impossible, this shouldn’t be a problem in the first place, since more than one group of African American students should be able to study in the African American study space.
With esteemed alumna Mellody Hobson ’91 giving the University a major gift, there will be a new residential college built where First College (formerly known as Wilson College) stands. As the first residential college named for a Black woman, this is a historic and momentous shift for the University that has also dissociated from the Woodrow Wilson name this year. Hobson said, “my hope is that my name will remind future generations of students — especially those who are Black and brown and the ‘firsts’ in their families — that they too belong. Renaming Wilson College is my very personal way of letting them know that our past does not have to be our future.”
Hobson has taken a very necessary and important step in the fight for more substantive diversity within the University. The next steps to this process, however, include changes that affect the dynamics of the University on both a micro and macro level. One step that can be taken from here is to focus on creating more spaces on campus that highlight diversity.
The Fields Center is a fantastic space. However, CAF alone is inadequate to be the sole place that is meant to celebrate diversity on campus. CAF, on its first floor, has plenty of room to host events. That is not the problem and is a major positive of the space.
What is a problem is the second floor. On the second floor, there are separate rooms that are designed to be spaces for studying or meeting according to different ethnic backgrounds. These rooms, individually, aren’t larger than a standard dorm room and are not sufficient to serve all the students of color. Furthermore, these rooms are not likely to be used for their stated purpose because of CAF’s location toward the end of Prospect Avenue.
The Women*s, LGBT, and AccessAbility Centers, respectively, are housed inside of Frist Campus Center in rooms with similar dimensions. The University should not confine these important and meaningful identities to the space of a dorm room; rather, each identity should have its own building the size of CAF. When looking at the rest of campus, names like that of former University President and Founding Father John Witherspoon are everywhere and are a constant reminder of Princeton’s history. With that being said, there needs to be a greater effort to have centers of diversity throughout campus instead of in one location.
Similar to “the Street,” the University should build a row of buildings that house different identities. These buildings could augment the new residential colleges that are being built as a commitment to highlighting diversity on campus. However, these buildings should be in a central place on campus so they are easily accessible and not as far away as CAF is now. There has been frustration expressed on the placement of CAF before, which continues to this day. Thus, with my proposed buildings, location is of utmost importance. These buildings should be in a highly visible and accessible place on campus; I propose it should not be too far off from Prospect Garden, a hub for faculty and students alike, as well as a prominent visiting place for tourists.
Furthermore, these buildings must include as many resources as possible to maximize their effect. Similarly to CAF, they should each include study and event spaces. To a grander scale than CAF, each building should celebrate the unique identity it houses.
These buildings, if built correctly, would be a much-needed injection of energy to make students of color feel as if there is a substantial space for them to exist on campus as opposed to the rooms that exist now at CAF. CAF would still exist, but serve a different function, as a sort of a headquarters for diversity and a home base for the other buildings. These other buildings would be of great benefit for students and be crucial to their success at Princeton because there would exist a space where they can truly unpack and unwind during their time at Princeton.
With Hobson’s gift and residential college, as well as the dissociation from Woodrow Wilson’s name, new buildings celebrating diversity would further the momentum of the University as it tries to turn a new chapter in its history. No longer would only one group of students be plausibly able to occupy the African American study space because there could be a whole building for us to go study in. Thank you, Mellody Hobson, for taking a massive step to help students of color at Princeton. We will try to build on your legacy from here.
Elijah Benson is a junior from Newark, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org