Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Princeton, practice what you preach: SPIA graduate students on protest and dialogue

A group of protestors stand in front of a fountain
Protesters gathered around the SPIA fountain.
Zehao Wu / The Daily Princetonian

The following is an open letter and reflects the authors' views alone. For information on how to submit a piece to the Opinion section, click here.

Dear Graduate School Administration and Princeton University Community, 


In his opening remarks at the 1969 Princeton commencement, University president Robert F. Goheen ’40 GS ’48 said, “Only through disturbance comes growth.” Today, those words could not ring more true for us as graduate students at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA).

For the past eight months, we have watched genocide unfold in real time in Gaza. We have sat in classrooms with professors who sidestep the issue. We have attended panels where the same platitudinous narratives failed to draw truly diverse, historical perspectives on the conflict. Our professors and deans have commended us for speaking out about a difficult subject while refusing to engage with us on questions around responsibility, complicity, and how we at Princeton can act.

Meanwhile, in our classes, we continue to discuss the history of popular movements like the Arab Spring, civil rights, and queer liberation and their aims of advancing human rights across the globe. We learn how international institutions can hold rule-breakers accountable. We learn that state institutions often abuse power and exploit communities, and that shaping a more equitable and sustainable world can require confrontation and disruption. We learn about injustices stemming from colonialism, racism, sexism, and other types of bigotry. And we are taught to fight against these systems however we can, to fight for equal rights, freedoms, and equity, even at the expense of our comfort, futures, and livelihoods.

At the time of Goheen’s speech, Princeton students were protesting the Vietnam War, propping banners that read “EVEN PRINCETON” to push back on Princeton’s quiet, conservative, and reactionary reputation. SPIA, which was formerly known as the Woodrow Wilson School, has also been at the center of political and moral discourse in the University. In February 1968, SPIA students undertook a solidarity fast to protest the “brutal and senseless policy” pursued in Vietnam. That same year, around 300 students marched on the former Woodrow Wilson School building to protest the university and its trustees’ complicity in corporations upholding the racist apartheid state in South Africa. In 1972, after 58 student demonstrators were charged by the University’s Judicial Committee for a sit-in at Nassau Hall, around 200 protestors occupied the policy school demanding amnesty for the protestors and the disclosure of the source of an anonymous $35 million grant to the school. Brave student actions have led to tangible results, from partial divestment from Apartheid in 1978 to demands for a more diverse curriculum in 1995. Today, these movements are celebrated as embodying the University’s ethos of service to humanity and commitment to civic activism.

In light of the values that Princeton and its policy school claim to hold, and a history of student protest guiding the University, we are shocked at how Princeton has punitively targeted students acting in the same vein of public service and social justice. In Goheen’s own words, these students caused a “disturbance,” seeking to draw attention toward a movement that directly impacts world events today. They acted in solidarity with university students around the country and the world, and in the spirit of a long history of peaceful protest at Princeton and within the policy school. This includes two of our peers at SPIA, Achinthya Sivalingam and Ariel Munczek Edelman.

On April 25, Achinthya, a second-year SPIA master’s student, was arrested while setting up a tent in McCosh Courtyard as part of a peaceful action. Four days later, 13 students including Ariel, a first-year Master in Public Affairs student, performed a sit-in — a peaceful protest tactic with a long and successful history. Along with many other graduate and undergraduate students, they took action to demand that Princeton divest from companies that fund and support Israeli attacks on Gaza.


As policy students, we believe in the need for collective action and political organization to advocate for marginalized populations, an essential right in any democracy. Yet Achinthya and Ariel were punished and censored by their own university, which preaches the power of advocacy and denounces punitive retaliation in its classes. Now, Achinthya is unsure if she will be able to graduate with her peers in less than three weeks. Ariel was barred from campus, and was only allowed to return to their campus housing after 12 days. In his campus-wide email on April 29, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 even threatened Ariel and the rest of the Clio Hall sit-in participants with suspension and expulsion.

So why has a university whose motto commits it to service to humanity remained complicit in crimes against humanity? Why is Princeton so afraid of students applying the values we’ve been taught to our actions on campus? As policy students, we are appalled by the blatant hypocrisy of the University administration, which has relied on fear-mongering and false narratives to discredit student protestors. We are increasingly disillusioned with the dissonance of what we are taught in our classrooms and the University’s actions.

Despite student arrests, and the continued resilience of the Princeton Gaza Solidarity Encampment and hunger strike, the University has ignored and vilified student demands. We urge the administration to practice the values they preach and engage in constructive dialogue with students on their demands. Moreover, we demand complete amnesty for all students who have been engaging in peaceful protests for the rights of those in Palestine, including our classmates Achinthya and Ariel.


Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

Current graduate students:

Afsana Khan, MPA ’24

Amana Abdurrezak, MPA ’25

Andre Jimenez, MPA ’24

Anna Schaeffer, MPA ’25

Avery Barnett, PhD 

Ayushi Vig, MPA ’25

Barghav Sivaguru, MPA ’24 

Ben Anderson, MPA ’24

Betsabe Rojas Gonzalez, MPA ’24

Brent Efron, MPA ’24

Brontë Forsgren, MPA ’24

Bronte Nevins

Claire Fondrie-Teitler, MPA ’25

Cydney Gardner-Brown, MPA ’24, 

Ebonie Simpson, MPP ’24

Eleni Smitham, MPA ’25

Elmir Mukhtarov, MPA ’24 

Evan Karl

Fatma Gdoura, MPA ’24

Frances Steele, MPA ’25

Gillian Tisdale, MPA ’24

Isabela Salgado Pereira, MPA ’24

Jennifer Williams, MPA ’25

Jeremiah Chamberlin

Jing Xie

Julia Kaufman, MPA ’25

Justin Schuster, MPA ’24

Juyoung Lee, MPA ’24

Kate Hannick, MPA ’24

Katie Deal

Keiana West, MPA ’25

Kelso Brasunas, MPA ’24

Laurel Cooke, MPA ’25

Liam M., MPA ’24

Lizabelt Avila, MPA ’24

Madeleine Granda, MPA ’25

Madeline Davet, MPA ’25

Maimuna Ahmad, MPP ’24

Margot Adam, PhD ’28

Maya Pontón Aronoff 

Maya T. Woser, MPA ’24

Melissa Tier, PhD ’25

Mustafa Ali-Smith, MPA/JD ’27

Nada Shalash, MPA’25

Olivia Lucas, MPA ’24

Omar Elhaj

Paris Wilkerson, MPA ’27

Peter Kirgis, MPA ’25

Pranav Bhandarkar, MPA ’27

Rachel Morrow, MPA ’25

Rooya Rahin, MPA ’27

Rosemary Newsome, MPA ’25

Sabrina Fields, PhD Student

Sarah Lee ’22, MPA ’28

Sergio Rodriguez Camarena, MPA ’24

Shelley Hoover, PhD ’28

Sophie Bandarkar, MPA ’25

Sylvia Skerry, MPA ’25

Tina Lee, MPA ’25

Tony Solís Cruz, MPA ’24

Vaani Chopra, MPA ’24

Graduate alumni:

Alessandra Brown, MPA ’18

Amber Forbes, MPA ’18

Amber Zuberi, MPA ’18

Andom Ghebreghiorgis, MPP ’22

Auri Minaya, MPA’23

Conor Hussey, MPA ’22

Daniel Edelman, MPA ’15

Dominick Tanoh, MPA ’23

Evelyn Wong, MPA ’23 

Fatima Khan, MPA’ 21

Francis Torres, MPA ’22

Hannah Ceja, MPA ’23

Harshita Rallabhandi, MPA ’21

Helena H., MPA ’23

Henrietta Toivanen, PhD ’23

Ileana Cruz, MPA ’19

Ishita Batra, MPA ’23

J. Sebastián Leiva M., MPA ’23

Jessie Press-Williams, MPA ’23

Jia Jun Lee, MPA ’22

Johana De la Cruz, MPA ’23

Julieta Cuéllar, MPA ’19

Kacie Rettig, MPA ’23

Kat Phan, MPA ’23

Kavita N Ramdas 

Marcelo Norsworthy, MPA ’18

Mark Lee Cambray, MPA ’21

Maura Farrell, MPA ’19

Muhsin Hassan MPA ’16

Nusrat Ahmed ’17 

Odette Overton, MPA ’23

Paco García Bellego, MPA ’23

Pallavi Nuka, MPA ’04

Patrick Ryan, MPA ’23

Rain Tsong, MPA ’23

Rouguiatou Diallo, MPA’23

Sam Carlson, MPA ’89

Seleeke Flingai, PhD, MPA ’18

Shehab Chowdhury, MPA ’18 

Sujata Rajpurohit, MPA ’21

Susan Ragheb, MPA ’22, APGA Board Member

Swetha Balachandran, MPA ’18

Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, MPA ’19

Vincent Cauntay

Vivian Chang, MPA ’17

Vyette Tiya, MPA ’24

The signatories listed signed as of 9:00 p.m. EST on May 13, 2024. To view a full list of signatories or to sign the letter, please see this continuously updating document. The document is monitored by the authors of the letter.