Pro-Palestinian groups escalated their protesting on Saturday by painting graffiti, dying Princeton’s Fountain of Freedom red, and interrupting President Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s annual Q&A with alumni by chanting, shouting, and holding up hands covered in red gloves and red paint. They also made their presence known at the P-rade Saturday afternoon, chanting and carrying signs.

The words “pretty town bloody gown” appeared on Robertson Hall Saturday morning, the letters painted across the white columns. On social media, a student group that headed up the recent campus protest called the graffiti “a reminder to keep eyes on Palestine.” 

At 10:30 a.m. a worker appeared to be pressure washing the graffiti off the building; by 1:30 p.m. the letters were covered with white poster boards. Hoses placed in the fountain were draining out the red water.

The move was one way pro-Palestinian protesters seem to be trying to keep the spotlight during Reunions, following their three-week encampment that ended May 15. On social media Friday, the student group — Princeton Israeli Apartheid Divest (PIAD) — wrote: “This weekend, act, disrupt, and escalate on your own terms — all tactics welcome.”

On Saturday morning, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 spoke at an annual forum sponsored by the Alumni Association, held in Alexander Hall’s Richardson Auditorium.  About 20 minutes in, local resident Joline Konson stood up and began shouting. Some alumni shouted “shame” at Konson, and two Public Safety officers talked to Konson for about a minute while Konson continued to shout about Princeton’s complicity in genocide. 

As a video began to play on the stage as part of Eisgruber’s presentation, about 50-60 people in the audience silently held up their red hands while still sitting. When Eisgruber resumed speaking, Konson stood up and began shouting again. Public Safety officers then led Konson from the room. 

A protester stands and shouts during Eisgruber’s Q&A.
A protester stands and shouts during Eisgruber’s Q&A.
Brett Tomlinson

As Konson was being taken out, the protesters with red hands began to chant and marched out of the auditorium. Again, several alums in the audience shouted “Shame” and “Let him talk” at the protesters. Eisgruber watched them go but when they had left the room, he noted that they had left just as the question-and-answer part of his presentation was about to begin. The first alumni who spoke praised Eisgruber’s handling of the protests and received loud applause.

A woman in the audience holds up her hands wearing red surgical gloves.
Protesters in the audience of President Eisgruber’s Q&A held up hands wearing red surgical gloves and paint.
Brett Tomlinson

After the protesters walked out, Eisgruber addressed the audience, saying, “Protest is OK, disruption is not. Protest is important. It’s an important part of what goes on on a college campus as people move through this stage of their lives.

“We want students to be engaged around issues of justice and that’s really important. So some of this represents things that I think are part of what we need to do at Princeton and the kind of engagement that we have.

“But on the other hand, if people are taking over buildings, if they are vandalizing property, or if they are making it impossible for us to have a discussion, then at that point we need to take action. Because under those circumstances we cannot have the discussions that are important.”

After the protesters left, several small speaker-like devices they apparently left under their seats went off at intervals with pro-Palestinian messages. At least three were confiscated. 

The entire protest lasted about seven minutes. 

A worker uses a pressure washer to remove the “R” in "pretty.”
A worker uses a pressure washer to remove the “R” in “pretty.”
Allison Sullivan
Outside Richardson, the protesters continued to chant. When Public Safety officers blocked the entrances, the protesters chanted, “PSAFE, KKK, IDF [Israel Defense Force] They’re all the same.” Public Safety eventually closed the doors to Richardson but had to move some protesters out of the doorway. Princeton town police officers also arrived on the scene.

It’s unclear whether anyone was arrested.

Ken Mayers ’58, wearing a pro-divestment T-shirt and a keffiyeh around his shoulders, said he had walked out with the students “because I think the University has failed to negotiate with the protesters, who have a perfectly valid argument.” Mayers said he supported the walkout but not the protester who shouted during Eisgruber’s talk. “I didn’t think it was appropriate to stand up shouting,” he said.

Rutgers professor David Hughes ’89 said he had been involved in the encampment at Rutgers. He said he brought red paint into Richardson with him and applied it to his hands while Eisgruber was speaking.

Roger Woolston ’55 said, “I think it’s OK. They weren’t really disruptive. But I’m glad it hasn’t gotten violent.” Virginia Smith ’83 also said she thought the protests were appropriate. “Protests are supposed to be uncomfortable,” she said. “If they’re not uncomfortable, they’re not noticed.”

Protesters hold signs at the P-rade; one reads: "28,000 Palestinians murdered with Princeton $. Stop Israeli apartheid. Divest Now!"
Protesters hold signs at the P-rade.
Brett Tomlinson

“I’m very proud of the way the president handled it because he obviously is trying to live his values, and it’s very uncomfortable and he’s got a complicated job, but there’s such strong feelings,” said Jerry Kunze ’77. “So, I think he’s honoring that by allowing people the chance to protest, but to keep it in a context and in a way that the issues can be discussed without escalation. And we can hopefully move forward together.” His wife Beth agreed and added, “I didn’t feel threatened personally, I just felt bothered by the situation.”

“I respect that there’s a point of view, [but] I don’t approve of the tactics,” said Bob Auray ’73. He added, “I’d have more respect for these folks if they’d go over and fight. Go join the cause, defeat the Israelis if you’re really serious. Get armed and don’t fight with me, go fight over there.”

A protester by the Class of 2019 at the P-rade holds up a Palestinan flag.
A protester near the Class of 2019’s P-rade staging area holds up a Palestinan flag.
Nicholas DeVito