President Eisgruber ’83 could not have predicted the uproar over racism and freedom of expression that would engulf Princeton’s campus in April when, weeks earlier, he chose the book for Princeton’s “Pre-read,” summer reading for incoming freshmen: Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do.
“Events of the past year underscore the need for all of us to think carefully and critically about how stereotypes affect our campus, our society, and the world,” Eisgruber said in a press release announcing the book last month, perhaps thinking about the unarmed black men killed by police. What took place over the next few days showed that he was right to include Princeton in his statement, as the campus soon erupted with fierce discussions of racism, stereotyping, and free speech. Some were civil and productive; many — cloaked in online anonymity — were not. Hoping to bring the community together, Eisgruber called a meeting in the Chapel. (See page 16.)
Black students are “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Naimah Hakim ’16 said from the Chapel pulpit. Whistling Vivaldi provides a glimpse of just how exhausting stereotypes can be, and cites a lot of Princeton research in telling that story. Sociology professor Douglas Massey *78, for example, found that that the more black and Latino students worried that others would view them stereotypically, the worse their grades became. “Stereotype threat” applies to other groups, too, including women taking math tests and white men prompted to think of a stereotype that they are not natural athletes.
The Chapel gathering made it painfully clear that there is a huge gap in perspectives between the way majority and minority students view their Princeton experience. The Pre-read selection is intended primarily for members of the Class of 2019, but it’s good reading for the rest of us, as well.