“None of my professors look like me.” “I got into Princeton because I’m black? Do I get A’s because I’m black, too?” “We will not remain silent just so you can remain comfortable.”
These are just some of the messages featured in the Black Student Union’s photography campaign, “I, Too, Am Princeton.” On April 23, more than 50 students gathered on the front campus to create images highlighting the experiences of Princeton students of color. The photos are posted on the Web: itooamprinceton.tumblr.com.
The images are straightforward: Each features one or two students holding a whiteboard; most stand against the historical backdrop of Nassau Hall. But what is written on each whiteboard powerfully captures students’ frustrating, alienating, or uncomfortable encounters with racism at Princeton.
Inspired by a similar campaign at Harvard, the project aims to trigger dialogue about often-undiscussed racial issues. Racism is often disguised as a joke, and even a comment that is not blatantly racist can be said condescendingly and use hurtful terminology, said BSU president Dashaya Foreman ’16.
The photos of “I, Too, Am Princeton” make it more difficult for observers to deny the pervasiveness of racial attitudes, BSU members said.
“A lot of people believe that we’re in this post-racial society, that these encounters don’t happen,” said Zenaida Enchill ’16, the group’s vice president. “I’ve had a really great Princeton experience, but it can be a disservice not to talk about it in its entirety. This project shows a different side, a side that’s usually not shown.”
Students hope that increased dialogue will open the doors for change. The Center for African American Studies, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, and other University departments have publicized the project, and the BSU hopes to engage in further discussion with Nassau Hall to support students of color.
Among the ideas the students have offered: freshman-orientation programming geared toward helping minorities make the transition to Princeton, a greater variety of African-American studies classes, and increased funding for the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding.