Princeton made changes to its no communication and no contact order (NCO) rules after a student criticized the policy in the spring and wrote an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal in September, University spokesman Michael Hotchkiss told PAW.
Danielle Shapiro ’25 wrote about being on the receiving end of an NCO last spring when working as a journalist for the conservative student newspaper The Princeton Tory and trying to connect with Harshini Abbaraju ’22, who filed the complaint.
Shapiro said she met Abbaraju at a Feb. 22 protest organized by the Princeton Committee on Palestine and followed up via email to confirm information. She said she was notified of the NCO two days after her article was published.
Shapiro told PAW she did not engage in harassment.
In emails to PAW, Abbaraju, who has since graduated, characterized Tory writers as having a “bad-faith, stalkerish pursuit of pro-Palestine activists,” and that their articles contained “numerous harmful mistruths and mischaracterizations,” leading her to seek the NCO.
Although NCOs may be intended to head off sexual harassment or other types of altercations, the controversy surrounding Shapiro highlighted concerns about the policy, such as whether it’s too broad and the threshold for enacting an order too low.
Said Hotchkiss: “Since the events described in The Wall Street Journal opinion piece, students seeking a no communication order in situations where there hasn’t been any significant conflict have been asked to first communicate in writing with the other party and let them know they wish to have no contact. If that request isn’t honored, the request for an NCO is reviewed.”
Online information about Princeton’s NCOs can now be found on the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students site under “Conflict Resolution” as well as on the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources Education site.
Shapiro disputes when the policy was updated. “The University did not change the policy as a result of my reporting in The Wall Street Journal,” she told PAW.
The updated policy does not apply to concerns related to sexual misconduct. Shapiro said the NCO she received directed her to Princeton’s Sexual Misconduct and Title IX site for more information.
“From the [Journal] article, I can’t see any nexus between the conduct and Title IX,” said John Clune, a Title IX lawyer from Hutchinson Black and Cook LLC.
Lindsie Rank, student press counsel at the free-speech group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), told PAW that when Title IX is “used incorrectly, you can end up undermining free expression. And in this case … it was weaponized against this journalist.”
Rank also said that if Princeton had “concerns that this student journalist was harassing the source, then they should have done at least an initial investigation to find out if there was actual harassment that was occurring here.”
Shapiro said she wasn’t provided with an opportunity to defend herself before the NCO was issued.
Princeton declined to release statistics detailing how many NCOs it has issued, but Myles McKnight ’23, a Tory contributor and president of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, detailed his own experience receiving an NCO when he spoke at a University-sponsored event about free expression during this year’s freshman orientation.
Both McKnight and Shapiro were successful in their petitions to remove their NCOs, though Shapiro found the process to be unsatisfactory. In the Journal, she wrote: “Princeton has transformed a shield against harassment into a sword against the press.”
After reviewing Princeton’s updated NCO policy, Rank added that “I still think that the University needs to really critically think about the ways in which issuing these kinds of no contact orders, especially in the context of student press, can cause a chilling effect.”