Princeton students speak out against safe spaces

A student coalition at Princeton University is taking a stand against proposals to create “safe spaces” through mandatory diversity courses and whitewashing the school’s history.

The Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), which emerged on Facebook Monday morning in response the university’s acceptance of a list of diversity demands last week, describes its mission as “[protecting] diversity of thought and the right of all students to advance their academic and personal convictions in a manner free from intimidation.”

To that end, the page features an open letter to University President Christopher Eisgruber, one of three administrators to sign an agreement with student representatives of the Black Justice League last week that resolved a 32-hour sit-in that was being held outside Eisgruber’s office.

Student Allie Burton, who is a member of the POCC legislative committee, told Campus Reform that as of Monday morning, less than 12 hours after the page went up, the group had already attracted 179 likes, which she indicated is a sort of vindication for the group’s claim that “a few loud voices were drowning out the majority of university students.”

In the agreement, the officials promised to “initiate conversations” with the Board of Trustees on proposals to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as well as to remove a mural of the former U.S. president from a dining hall on campus.

[RELATED: Princeton president agrees to scrub references to Woodrow Wilson]

They also agreed to expand the availability of cultural competency training, and pledged to immediately designate four rooms in a building on campus for use by “Cultural Affinity Groups,” promising over the longer term to pursue the creation of “Affinity Housing for those interested in black culture” with the Residential Colleges.

“We are concerned mainly with the importance of preserving an intellectual culture in which all members of the Princeton community feel free to engage in civil discussion and to express their convictions without fear of being subjected to intimidation or abuse,” the Coalition tells Eisgruber in the letter.

The POCC also requests a meeting with Eisgruber to discuss its concerns, asking for at least an hour of his time, but saying they will accept any duration that he desires and promising that they will not occupy his office if they do not get what they want.

“Academic discourse consists of reasoned arguments,” the group points out. “We simply wish to present our own reasoned arguments and engage you and other senior administrators in dialogue.”

Burton told Campus Reform that the Coalition has not yet received a response from the university, but is planning to deliver a hard copy of the letter to Eisburger’s office Monday.

Their first concern relates to “the methods employed by the protesters,” which the letter describes as “troubling,” given the availability of less-disruptive outlets for expressing grievances and effecting change.

“Admittedly, civil disobedience (and even law-breaking) can sometimes be justified. However, they cannot be justified when channels of advocacy, through fair procedures of decision-making, are fully open, as they are at our university,” the letter argues. “To adopt these tactics while such procedures for debate and reform are in place is to come dangerously close to the line dividing demonstration from intimidation.”

Regarding the specific initiatives demanded by the Black Justice League, the POCC expresses the opinion that they represent a misguided strategy for promoting diversity, but says its primary goal is that there be a “fair debate” before they are implemented.

Conceding, for instance, that “Wilson, like all other historical figures, has a mixed legacy,” the group says it opposes the removal of references to him, arguing that “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 letter also firmly opposes the university’s concession to demands that it create “safe spaces” for certain members of the school community through designated cultural centers or segregated housing.

“It is the very mission of the university to seek truth by subjecting all beliefs to critical, rational scrutiny,” the group asserts. “While students with a shared interest in studying certain cultures are certainly welcome to live together, we reject university-sponsored separatism in housing.”

Reiterating its hope that Eisgruber will agree to meet with its representatives, the POCC concludes by stating that “Princeton undergraduates opposed to the curtailment of academic freedom refuse to remain silent out of fear of being slandered.”

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