On Nov. 15, the University announced the creation of the Effron Center for the Study of America — a massive expansion of the Program in American Studies. The Center comes as a result of a major donation to the University from Blair Effron ’84 and Cheryl Cohen Effron.
“The Effron Center will expand and strengthen existing American studies programs, including the undergraduate certificate tracks in American Studies, Latino Studies, and Asian American Studies, as well as courses in Indigenous Studies,” Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told The Daily Princetonian. “The Center’s leadership may also choose to develop new programs and research initiatives in the future.”
Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, professor of American Studies and the Program’s current director, will lead the center once constructed. Her vision for the center, according to her statements in a University press release, is that of a “collaborative hub,” dedicated to grappling with “the multiple strands of American viewpoints, politics, identities, histories, and practice.”
“The creation of this center strengthens Princeton’s voice in the global dialogue on the complex and diverse meanings of what it means to be America, and American,” Beliso-De Jesús said in the release. (She did not respond to a request for comment.)
Asked whether the Center may soon offer an undergraduate concentration in American Studies, Hotchkiss would neither confirm or deny.
“Any decision or discussion about an academic concentration in American Studies would be a matter for University leadership and the Faculty,” he wrote.
If a concentration were created, the University would become the fifth school in the Ivy League to confer degrees in American Studies, joining Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale.
The Effrons’ gift marks the first major public contribution to Venture Forward — the newly-launched University fundraising and engagement campaign — since its public announcement on Oct. 1.
The size of the gift is not publicly available. Asked whether the University would be willing to disclose the amount donated, Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told the ‘Prince’ that the University’s focus is on “the impact of this gift to the Venture Forward campaign rather than the dollar amount.”
The Effrons did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.
Blair Effron serves on the University Board of Trustees and now co-chairs the steering committee for Venture Forward. On campus, a building already bears his name following another major contribution: The Effron Music Building opened in the fall of 2017 as part of the Lewis Center for the Arts.
Beyond Princeton, Effron is the co-founder of Centerview Partners, an investment banking and advisory firm, and serves on several organizations’ boards, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Council on Foreign Relations. Cheryl Cohen Effron is a New York-based real estate developer who serves on the board of the Brookings Institution and the American Museum of Natural History, among other organizations.
President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 emphasized his gratitude to the Effrons in the University press release. Their gift, he said, will “facilitate innovative interdisciplinary research and teaching about some of the most urgent questions facing America today.”
Currently, the Program in American Studies offers three undergraduate certificates: American Studies, Latino Studies, and Asian American Studies. Classes in Native American and Indigenous Studies and other non-certificate programs are also available.
“American Studies should be a platform that touches every single student at Princeton,” Acting Director Patricia Fernández-Kelly said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “In other words, it’s not just another place where you can take courses, but a platform which is dedicated to providing comprehensive knowledge.”
The announcement of the Center comes after an August 2016 task force report, authored by a group of American Studies faculty members, issued a series of recommendations for the program, including expansion to “the Collaborative Center for the Study of America.” Hotchkiss confirmed to the ‘Prince’ that the Center’s establishment falls in line with that recommendation.
The 2016 report also recommended an expansion of the number of dedicated teaching faculty, resources for post-docs, and a Senior Scholars in Residence program.
Asked whether the University can estimate the number of additional faculty members in American Studies it will be able to hire as a result of the gift, Hotchkiss confirmed that the Center will “allow for faculty expansion in American Studies and its related program areas,” but did not provide a more specific estimate.
The expansion may include post-doctoral fellows and visitors, he added.
“Faculty growth and other program enhancements have already begun and are expected to continue over the next few years,” Hotchkiss wrote.
Fernández-Kelly said she sees the Effron Center as essential to ensuring University graduates are well prepared to contribute meaningfully in the wider world.
“Undergraduate students,” she said, “will end up in positions of comparative power — sometimes a lot of power — and it’s a nightmare for me that some of our graduates have actually gone on to become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”
“[This is] partly because of the absence of something like the Effron Center, which offers opportunity for students to be better informed about questions of history and culture and about questions of social equity and decency and justice,” she added.
Marie-Rose Sheinerman is a senior writer who has reported on COVID-19 policy, faculty controversy, sexual harassment allegations, major donors, campus protests, and more. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @rosesheinerman. She previously served as an editor of news and features and now assists with content strategy.
Sam Kagan is a senior writer with experience reporting on University finances, alumni in government, University COVID-19 policy, and more. He previously served as a news editor and now leads the surveys section. You can reach Sam at email@example.com or on Twitter @thesamkagan.