I was gratified to see President Eisgruber’s June 22 Message to the Princeton Community regarding anti-racism initiatives, including his call to “seize this tragic and searing moment in American history to ask how we can more effectively fight racism.” I support such a task wholeheartedly, but I ask, what took so long?
Princeton students, faculty, staff, and alumni have long confronted the University on critical cases of institutional racism, from the issue of divestment in South Africa years ago to, more recently, the tainted legacy of Woodrow Wilson and Princeton’s complicity in slavery. Princeton officials, President Eisgruber included, have too often been slow to respond to those challenges in a positive manner, but now, in the midst of an inescapable national crisis, Princeton’s president calls upon everyone to be “relentless in our efforts to eliminate the scourge of racism and strive for equality and justice.” In fact, many people at Princeton have been doing that for years.
I point to the Princeton & Slavery Project: From its beginnings as a small student seminar led by Professor Martha Sandweiss, in 2013, the project now provides a model for engaged scholarship and service, with around 1,000 pages of evidence and analysis on its website, slavery.princeton.edu. I would urge everyone in the Princeton community to explore the Princeton & Slavery site and begin to come to terms with the University’s emergence from deep roots of racism. Only by acknowledging where we came from can we determine where we need to go.