At a Dec. 12 teach-in on “Black Activism and Consciousness at Princeton,” students and faculty described the challenges of defining a black identity and discussing racial issues on campus. The event, sponsored by the Black Justice League (BJL), which organized the Nassau Hall sit-in, drew about 100 students and alumni.
BJL member Destiny Crockett ’17 said it was not easy to balance acknowledging and respecting a wide range of views — in both the black community and the wider University community — while remaining firm to achieve action on the group’s demands.
“My issue has been figuring out what is disagreeing and what is discounting someone’s humanity,” Crockett said.
“Solidarities are made; they can’t be presupposed,” Professor Eddie Glaude *97 added. “We know we don’t represent the entire black community.”
Professor Tera Hunter and Olamide Akin-Olugbade ’16 explained that when others focus on criticizing the methods of protest, they derail conversations about the important underlying issues.
Wilglory Tanjong ’18 spoke of tone policing at the BJL sit-in, explaining, “When you begin to tone police, people say ‘Oh you guys shouldn’t have sat in Nassau … you shouldn’t have been raising your voice to President Eisgruber.’ ”
“But what people don’t understand though is we did go about these bureaucratic pathways, and we had many, many meetings … with so many administrators until we got to the point that they would not listen to us; we had to sit in Nassau Hall to be radical,” Tanjong said.
Tanjong said the status quo of silence and the slow university bureaucratic processes prevent real progress, noting that the BJL is “pushing for the same demands that black students in the ’60s and ’70s pushed for.”
Justice only remains justice when it is founded on love, however, said former faculty member Cornel West *80 — a statement followed by a wave of applause. Black-justice advocates “use our pain to be better pursuers of truth and justice and integrity,” West said. “We’re asking you: Continue to hate a little less.”
Jim Floyd ’69, who attended the teach-in, was a member of one of the first classes at Princeton to have a black population in the double digits. Floyd recounted his memories of Carl Fields, Princeton’s first black administrator, who “expressed publicly and personally from his position as an administrator and from his interactions with us individually that he cared about us being here” — a message that Floyd doesn’t believe has been as strongly reinforced on campus since Fields’ departure in 1971.
“Students [need to be] able to hear a grown-up who is part of the administration … saying, ‘You belong here. You are Princetonians, and that’s it. There’s no question,’ ” Floyd said.