As an anthropologist teaching in the Princeton Writing Program whose courses regularly involve offensive material, I would like to weigh in on the recent controversy surrounding Lawrence Rosen’s use of the N-word in his class. In short, I write in support of the students who walked out on Rosen.
In her February 8th letter to the editor, Professor Carolyn Rouse offered a pedagogy for Rosen’s class as contextual background for why certain students should not have walked out. Unfortunately, her letter entirely misses the point as to why the students walked out of class.
I write to provide important context to the events reported on Feb. 7 in the Daily Princetonian story “Students walk out of anthropology lecture after professor uses the word “n****r.” Like every semester, professor Lawrence Rosen started the class by breaking a number of taboos in order to get the students to recognize their emotional response to cultural symbols. Rosen was fighting battles for women, Native Americans, and African-Americans before these students were born.
At Princeton, another year has come and gone, and with it the cycle of all our peculiar rituals. This week, a significant portion of the junior and senior classes gather in big mansions behind locked doors (they’re locked: I’ve checked) to cast judgment on a significant portion of the sophomore class. They will display the sophomore’s names and photos, hear the case for and against the social merits of each, and then, one by one, vote on whether or not to admit the sophomore in question into their mansion.
I propose the establishment of Mental Health Peers. Mental Health Peers will provide a concrete service in the University community by training students how to be friends in mental crisis. We will train our friends, classmates, and peers how to talk about mental health.
Princeton undergraduate students and alumni: You should be absolutely furious right now. We just had our (honor-) constitutionally-endowed rights obliterated by a short email sent by several administrators. These rights were guaranteed to us 125 years ago with the establishment of the Honor Constitution and yet, one well-timed email was enough to dismantle them.
The administrators who wrote the email did not do anything untoward. The erroneous, careless, and irresponsible actions of the USG and the USG subcommittee unnecessarily constructed this ignominious debacle.
I write in response to Sarah Sakha’s response to my opinion piece demonstrating that Title IX proceedings are far less fair than those of the Honor Code. I have nothing to add to my original argument, which was based on an undisputed, factual comparison of the two sets of procedures. As Sakha herself wrote: “Ultimately, I agree with Berger’s overarching argument. Yes, the Honor Code Constitution presents stipulations far stricter than those presented by Title IX regulations.” In response to Sakha’s piece, I have three additional points.
As I understand it, the undergraduate student body correctly followed this procedure as prescribed by the Constitution, and therefore successfully amended the Constitution. The deans and vice president outlined their thinking to the contrary, stating, “these proposals represent a significant departure from prior practice and exceed the scope of the responsibility delegated to the student body by the faculty concerning the Honor System. The proposals would also place the penalties for violating the Honor Code for in-class examinations out of alignment with academic integrity violations adjudicated by the faculty-student Committee on Discipline in cases of plagiarism and other out-of-class academic infractions.”
“Fairness.” It was the word at the heart of the arguments made in favor of Honor Code reform during December’s campaign. In announcing the referenda, the campaign sponsors wrote, “Most importantly, we need a fair system … we’re proposing four, common-sense reforms that will lead to greater fairness and academic integrity.” The importance of fairness was repeated throughout a photo campaign featuring calls from student leaders to vote for Honor Code reform in order to, for example, “strengthen our commitment to academic integrity, due process, and fairness for all students,” “ensure fairness for future classes,” and “make sure the system is fair for everyone.”
I have seen many of Princeton’s brightest minds be forced to leave the United States because, despite finding good employment after graduation, they are unable to get a work visa under the H-1B program. To put it simply: There are not enough visas available for high-skilled workers. As a result, great Princeton-educated scientists, engineers, and businesspeople, who would love to stay and contribute to this country, are forced to leave.
It is in our nature to hire people who agree with us. I therefore recommend that after the current measure passes, students consider lessening the control of hiring new committee members by current committee members.
By refusing to affiliate with PGSU and revoking any affiliation you may have given them, you can take a step in the right direction. PGSU dissolving can provide the space to start over, to build from the ground up an organization founded on principles of fairness and transparency.
Under this reform, the student who copies code on the in-class programming exam would be on disciplinary probation until graduation, and the student who copies code on the assignment would be suspended for a year. So, if this reform passes, we must then ask if we can encourage the faculty and the Committee On Discipline to accept a modified standard penalty across the board.
Our job really starts then, once the Honor Committee Chair and two investigators determine a hearing is warranted after reviewing evidence and speaking with the student in question, also known as the SIQ. From that moment, Peer Representatives are defense attorneys, peer counselors, advisers, and ombuds, all at once.