On Feb. 6, 2023, two earthquakes, of 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude each, struck Southeastern Turkey and Northern Syria. In his speech given on Feb. 9, Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres stated, “the earthquake that struck Türkiye and Syria is one of the biggest natural disasters in our times.”
Only two weeks after, on Feb. 20, two more earthquakes, of 6.4 and 5.8 magnitude, hit the Turkish province of Hatay, further devastating the region. Yet Princeton has not shown that it cares about the severity of the situation.
Since the time this article was written, 46,000 people have been confirmed dead and 26 million more individuals — including those who have become homeless, displaced, injured, or permanently disabled — are in need of aid. Earlier this week, the governor of Şırnak Province claimed that the statistics are “four to five times worse” than officially reported. Cities of millions have been destroyed, with thousands of “earthquake-safe” buildings collapsing and leaving many missing, trapped under piles of rubble in below-freezing weather conditions. Corpses that have been left unburied for over a week, along with a lack of clean water and toilets, are causing serious hygiene issues and trauma in the region.
This natural disaster is an international humanitarian crisis that is affecting people of many different ethnicities, religions, and nationalities, including members of the Princeton community.
Although we cannot physically be present to support our families and friends in their time of need, the Princeton Undergraduate Turkish Students Association (TSA) organized a donation drive to assist our communities from afar. Many other student organizations stood in solidarity with our efforts, including the Graduate Turkish Students Association, Arab Society, Kurdish Society, Balkan Society, Iranian Students Association, Princeton Intercultural Students of America, Muslim Students Association, and other Turkish student groups across North America and Europe.
We requested that the Princeton administration help publicize our cause by sending out an email to the student body, faculty, and staff, along with posting on Princeton’s official Instagram and Twitter pages about our donation drive. However, not only was our request for an email ignored, but social media posts were only uploaded on the last day of fundraising.
Despite the devastating effects of the earthquakes on dozens of Princeton community members, the University administration has barely made any meaningful effort to support us or engage with this disaster. Most, if not all, efforts to raise awareness have fallen on the backs of already overwhelmed and mourning students.
Throughout the relief campaign run by the TSA and current efforts from Arab, Kurdish, and Turkish students, staff, and faculty, we have been let down again and again due to the bureaucratic and organizational barriers imposed by the Princeton administration. For the past two weeks, we have been directed from office to office as we requested that an email be sent informing alumni, staff, faculty and students about vetted resources to send aid to both Turkey and Syria.
In emergencies like these, time is of the essence. Individual departments, such as the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), have issued a statement acknowledging the students, faculty, and staff who have lost their family and friends in this natural disaster. However, the University as a whole has yet to do so. Princeton has had no problems in the past speaking out about far more political international affairs in real time: University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 made a statement on the war in Ukraine just a week after it began. Why is it so controversial for the University to show solidarity with us, Middle Eastern members of the Princeton community, when we experience a horrific tragedy and humanitarian disaster?
Throughout this process, Princeton has proven to us that its informal motto, “in service of humanity,” is only performative. Or perhaps we are simply not considered a part of the humanity that Princeton serves.
This piece is a call to the Princeton community and administration. Although this crisis has fallen out of the attention of Western media, people still need your help. As a leading academic institution in the world, Princeton must take more initiative in engaging with international matters, especially those that affect members of its community directly.
Sena Çetin is a first-year and vice president of the Undergraduate Turkish Students Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.