A petition has been circulated through Princeton University and posted on change.org by a group of students intent on pushing administrators to make a commitment to allow freedom of speech on campus in the wake of the student protest movement against racism, which began at the University of Missouri in November.
So far, the petition created by the Concerned Princetonians, titled “Protect Plurality, Historical Perspective, and Academic Speech at Princeton,” has gathered more than 1,500 signatures. The group states that while they do understand the concerns of the Black Justice League, which held a sit-in at the university president’s office for 32 hours in an effort to create change on the campus, they are opposed to their demands, which include a dorm that celebrates black affinity, mandatory diversity training for staff and students, and a required course on marginalized people, in addition to the renaming of campus buildings and the removal of a mural of President Woodrow Wilson. Instead, the group is asking for better communication and the creation of a process that would consider the wants and needs of all of those on campus, writes Jessica Chasmar for The Washington Times.
The petition states that freedom of speech is a fundamental part of the role of the college as an institution of higher learning, and that efforts made to be too politically correct could “stifle academic discourse.”
Although the two groups do not appear to be arguing with each other, one is moving considerably further ahead with their demands as buildings across campus are being renamed, having been originally named after previous university president Woodrow Wilson, whose family owned slaves before the Civil War and who expressed racist sentiments, as the names could be considered offensive to people of color, reports Kristen Rein for USA Today.
Meanwhile, the Concerned Princetonian’s petition refers to Wilson as a “historical figure who, despite his flaws, made great contributions to this University.”
As signatures began to mount on the petition, students formed the Princeton Open Campus Coalition and wrote a letter to Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber seeking a meeting with him. The letter states that many students on campus have expressed feelings of fear with regards to publicly sharing their thoughts and opinions concerning the recent events, saying they believe they could be subjected to slander or hatred by students or faculty members.
“Many who questioned the protest were labeled racist, and black students who expressed disagreement with the protesters were called ‘white sympathizers’ and were told they were ‘not black.’ We, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, refuse to let our peers be intimidated or bullied into silence on these — or any — important matters.”
The group said that they would hold a sit-in as their peers had done, but would conduct themselves in “the civil manner,” writes Ashe Schow for The Washington Examiner.
So far the letter has been shared over 300 times on Facebook.
According to senior Evan Draim, “We hope that our peers at other colleges gain inspiration from what we are doing at Princeton.”