Students at Princeton University have started an online petition calling on their school’s president, trustees, and faculty to reject the demands of the student group Black Justice League, which include removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from buildings and creating “affinity housing” for students interested in Black culture.
The petition, titled “Protect Plurality, Historical Perspective, and Academic Speech at Princeton,” begins by asking for a process to address the concerns of the Black Justice League that “properly considers the input of all students and faculty, not merely those who are the loudest.”
According to the petition, Princeton’s Black Justice League is demanding the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs and Wilson College be renamed due to Wilson’s racist beliefs. Wilson served as the university’s president from 1902 to 1910, and later on became the country’s 28th president from 1913 to 1921.
The Black Justice League also demands that all students take “classes on the history of marginalized people” and all faculty take “cultural competency training”, which would include discussion of “the true role of freedom of speech and freedom of intellectual thought in a way that does not reinforce anti-Blackness and xenophobia” according to a Washington Post article.
The students behind the petition, Josh Zuckerman ‘16 and Evan Draim ‘16, were motivated to voice their opinions after Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber reportedly signed a document agreeing to engage with students in a discussion about racial tensions on campus. The New York Times reported the agreement ended a 32-hour student sit-in of the president’s office.
“Everyone at Princeton should be able to come together to make this campus a better and more respectful place. However, that is not possible when a few vocal students are the only ones allowed to share their viewpoint,” Draim, president of Princeton College Republicans, said.
Zuckerman said the purpose of the petition is to let the Princeton administration know a significant portion of the student body opposes the protesters’ demands.
“Hopefully the administration will not cower in the face of slanderous accusations of institutional racism and will invite students with a wide range of voices to participate in any upcoming policymaking discussions–not just the leaders of the Black Justice League and their like-minded peers,” Zuckerman said.
Draim added that the petition is neither conservative nor liberal, and that the petition is intended to give a voice to the “silent majority on our campus.”
Loren Reinoso, who identifies politically as left of center, said “[The demands are] highly illiberal and turns progressivism on its head. Progressive liberalism is, and has always been, ordered towards a diverse and open society.The demands the [Black Justice League] presented oppose both diversity and openness.”
The campaign to erase Wilson’s namesake from Princeton’s buildings, academic departments, residential colleges, and cafes struck the petitioners as “a dangerous precedent and slippery slope that will be cited by future students who seek to purge the past of those who fail to live up to modern standards of morality.”
In the petition Zuckerman and Draim write that the diversity requirement, if enacted, should allow students to choose which groups they want to study, rather than allow the Black Justice League to decide. They also suggest an accompanying required course on Western or American civilization.
The final part of the petition asks that Princeton “maintains its commitment to free speech and condemns political correctness to the extent that it infringes upon those fundamental academic values.”
According to The Times, the document signed by students and President Eisgruber contained no concrete language committing the university to removing Wilson’s name from campus, but instead “to initiate conversations concerning [Wilson’s] legacy” with the chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees. Administrators said they would “collect information on the campus community’s opinion” regarding whether to rename the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
At the time of writing, the petition had 344 signatures.