Princeton protest opponents: Let’s have a civil debate, celebrate Woodrow Wilson
Disapproving of the goals and methods of student protesters who staged a 32-hour sit-in at the Princeton University president's office last week — over objections to campus buildings and a mural they say celebrate Woodrow Wilson despite his racist views — a group calling itself the Princeton Open Campus Coalition is looking to strike a different tone.
In an open letter to university President Christopher Eisgruber Sunday, the coalition says students who disagreed with the protests were afraid they'd be "vilified, slandered, and subjected to hatred, either by fellow students or faculty." Black students who disagreed with the protest, the coalition says , were called “white sympathizers” and were told they were “not black" — though it doesn't specify by whom.
The coalition says in its letter it wants to have a discussion about its concerns with Eisgruber — without a sit-in it says was unnecessary at a school where "channels of advocacy, through fair procedures of decision-making, are fully open."
"We will not occupy your office, and, though we respectfully request a minimum of an hour of your time, we will only stay for as long as you wish. We will conduct ourselves in the civil manner that it is our hope to maintain and reinforce as the norm at Princeton," the group wrote.
As of Tuesday morning, the group's Facebook page had nearly 450 followers.
The protesting students last week — led by a group known as the Black Justice League — sought to have a mural of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson removed and to have the school rename buildings and programs named for him. The university ultimately said it would start a process to consider the requests.
Wilson, the 26th president of the United States, had been a president of Princeton starting in 1902 and was a governor of New Jersey from 1910 through 1913 Some historians consider him among the nation’s most racist presidents for his sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan, refusal to hire blacks in his administration and segregationist views. Cabinet heads in his administration re-segregated facilities in their buildings. He told a delegation of black professionals who came to the White House to protest its policies “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”
In its letter, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition said it objects not only to the protesters' methods for getting their voices heard, but to removing Wilson's name and mural — though it acknowledged his racist views.
"It is not for his contemptible racism, but for his contributions as president of both Princeton and the United States that we honor Wilson," the coalition writes. "Moreover, if we cease honoring flawed individuals, there will be no names adorning our buildings, no statues decorating our courtyards, and no biographies capable of inspiring future generations."
Protesters had also called for mandatory “cultural competency training” of all faculty and staff, and a new school distribution requirements covering the history of “marginalized peoples.”
The coalition also said it objects to those proposals — but stressed it doesn't want to minimize the need to engage racial issues in the academic setting.
"We worry that the proposed distribution requirement will contribute to the politicization of the University and facilitate groupthink," the coalition writes. "However, we, too, are concerned about diversity in the classroom and offer our own solution to this problem.
"While we do not wish to impose additional distribution requirements on students for fear of stifling academic exploration, we believe that all students should be encouraged to take courses taught by professors who will challenge their preconceived mindsets. To this end, the University should make every effort to attract outstanding faculty representing a wider range of viewpoints--even controversial viewpoints--across all departments. Princeton needs more Peter Singers, more Cornel Wests, and more Robert Georges."
It says in its letter the cultural competency training "threatens to impose orthodoxies on issues about which people of good faith often disagree."
Protesters had also called for black cultural housing, another proposal the university promised to consider.
The coalition writing this week says no one at the university should feel safe from having his or her views challenged — and said that "while students with a shared interest in studying certain cultures are certainly welcome to live together, we reject University-sponsored separatism in housing."
"We are all members of the Princeton community. We denounce the notion that our basic interactions with each other should be defined by demographic traits," the coalition writes.
The letter was signed by the group's "legislative committee" of 10 students.