Confronting Anti-Blackness at Princeton University’s Policy School – Graduate Program Petition

This letter was posted on June 23, 2010. At that time, it had the signatures of more than 450 students and alumni of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

TO: President Christopher Eisgruber, Acting Dean Mark Watson, and Deans Cecilia Rouse, Miguel Centeno, Karen McGuinness, and Elisabeth Donahue
FROM: Graduate students and alumni of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, with the consultation and centering of Black students and alumni

In this moment, we are seeing both the slow and sudden violence that robs Black people of life. This premature death is at the hands of the police, healthcare system, economy, and every system that fails to fight for justice. Activists are joining calls to fundamentally dismantle an American system of policing, incarceration, and white supremacy that oppresses Black and other peoples far beyond our borders. As individuals—Black and brown, LGBTQ, allies, and all those in solidarity —we are hurting, and we are angry. As students, we look to our institution’s leaders for clarion calls for justice and action. Once again, we find ourselves deeply disappointed.

For many years, students and alumni of this program have decried its lack of attention to anti-Black racism in favor of multiculturalism and the many ways public policies—both domestic and international—have been built upon a foundation of white supremacy. Now, more than ever, we ask ourselves: Does this school prepare its students to dismantle racist and oppressive systems? And, is this institution truly inclusive for Black students, faculty, and staff?

Without hesitation, the answer to both questions is still a resounding no.

It is one thing for University leaders to speak in vague terms or equivocate in the face of student demands. It may be unsurprising to Black, Indigenous, and people of color at this school when we face the same discrimination, marginalization, or microaggressions here that we have encountered elsewhere in our lives. But it is unacceptable that courses and faculty at this program fail to equip students with tools to abolish racist structures and advance racial equity—the very reason many of us returned to school. We are tired of taking classes (or avoiding classes) with professors who deem these issues as unimportant or ‘not rigorous.’ Moreover, we are furious that leadership, senior faculty, and classmates often dismiss or gaslight students who rightfully raise concerns.

It is no big mystery why Princeton, like many institutions, has failed to resolve its longstanding history of anti-Blackness. Although it has yet to financially atone for it, much of Princeton’s early development was funded through the labor of enslaved people. While Princeton has made strides to move past its extensive history of exclusion, several pillars of its oppressive past stubbornly remain, whether in its underlying funding, faculty composition, or wider institutional culture.

Fortunately, the solutions toward educational equity and community justice are not a mystery either. They have been created and proposed by Black organizers, scholars, and student activists, long before institutions like Princeton were willing to take their ideas seriously. Below, we lay out the following seven demands, which are grounded by their efforts:

Demands of the Graduate Students of Princeton University’s Policy School | June 2020

1. Pay Reparations | Princeton University participated in and profited from slavery for over 100 years. The university’s first nine Presidents were all active or former enslavers and 16 out of 23 of Princeton’s founding trustees bought, sold, traded, or inherited enslaved people at some point in their lives. We demand that the University commit 5% of its $26 billion endowment to reparations for the descendants of every enslaved person owned by the University’s Presidents and Board of Trustees.

2. Divest from the Prison Industrial Complex | The prison industrial complex feeds on and maintains oppression and inequality through disproportionate criminalization, punishment, violence towards, and control of Black Americans. It is fundamentally immoral to finance an educational institution through profits from carceral industries. We demand that the university verify its divestment from all private prisons and permanently divest from all levels of the prison industrial complex.

3. Abolish the Police | American policing was designed to oppress Black communities and continues to do so today. The Princeton Police Department and Campus Public Safety have actively engaged in these injustices, impacting students, faculty, staff, and visitors. We demand Princeton University cut ties with the Princeton Police Department, defund Campus Public Safety, and shift funding to mental health, de-escalation, and other campus services that holistically deliver public safety.

4. Implement an Anti-Racist Curriculum | Our policy school fails to provide students with the tools to dismantle racism and oppression. We demand the school undergo an anti-racist transformation of the curriculum by Fall 2021. We demand anti-racist frameworks be incorporated as core components to policymaking in our courses. We demand the implementation of the widely-supported DEI core requirement for all MPA students beginning Fall 2021. We also demand inclusion of adjunct faculty and lecturers in the Masters Committee curriculum approval process, which is dominated by white men.

5. Increase Black faculty, lecturers, and practitioners | Less than 5% of faculty are Black. We demand that the School ensure 25% or more of its affiliated professors are Black by the end of 2022. The School must expand the number of departments it is affiliated with to include the African American Studies department. All privileges of joint appointments must be extended to AAS faculty, including positions on the Master’s Committee. The School must also name an Anti-Racist Policy Fellow each year.

6. Establish a Center for Anti-Racist Policy | The school lauds itself for partnering with 21 centers on campus to fuel cutting-edge thinking and research, yet there is no center focused on dismantling racism. We demand the school establish and generously fund a Center for Anti-Racist Policy, invite post-docs and fellows to foster collaboration among anti-racism scholars, and create a pipeline for faculty who specialize in anti-racist policymaking.

7. Increase Black Student Enrollment | We demand that Princeton strengthen pipelines and relationships to increase Black student enrollment and disaggregate admission demographics to account for the range of experiences among Black communities. Admissions must reimagine its evaluation and selection process by requiring applicants to complete a diversity statement, banning the box in applications, and eliminating the GRE requirement, a racist and sexist assessment that unreliably indicates graduate school success.

Simultaneously, we stand in solidarity with the undergraduate class of 2020, which shares our calls for substantive change at this institution. Our colleagues are once again demanding the removal of the Woodrow Wilson name from our School. It is embarrassing that the School has yet to renounce the celebration of its namesake and his well-documented legacy of white supremacy. However, we want to be clear: **changing the name, though long overdue, cannot and will not be enough to address the significant issues we raise here.**

As a graduate student community, we want this School to prepare us for the challenges of today and tomorrow. We want to attend an institution whose funding scheme accounts for past and ongoing injustices, and reside in a place where social challenges are elevated and addressed through community resources, not stifled and subdued by officers. We want to believe that engaging in anti-racism, dismantling structural racism, and achieving racial equity are things a policy school can and must teach us—not just as niche topics, but as core tenets and fundamental practices in our field of public policy. We believe that an institution that firstly focuses on the needs, aspirations, and identities of Black students and faculty is one that elevates all of us. Moreover, we believe it is our duty “to work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.”

Black Lives Matter. And it’s time this School did something concrete to prove it.

The signatories to this petition are listed, as well as a link to their expanded demands.

These are bourgeois revolutionaries who are students or alumni(ae) of an elite, expensive, and exclusive private university, and have obviously not themselves suffered very much marginalization or financial deprivation. The planners and funders of their revolution have covered all the bases except one: deprivation and exploitation of the proletariat. Systemic racism and wide scale pervasive police brutality could be worthy issues if they actually existed and were not obviously contrived.

The revolutionary spirit of the New Left which pervaded the campuses in the 1950s and 1960s also failed for the same reason.

From Lefticon:

Revolution – the overthrow and replacement of a government.

Revolutions are most often described as sudden, open, and violent, as in the American and French revolutions. Even coups described as popular revolutions have some violence at the onset and further violence during the lustration period that follows.

Successful revolutions require planning and leadership by a dedicated cadre. Popular uprisings without planning and leadership are destined to fail. Effective planning and leadership require intelligent planners and leaders who, alas, are rare among the proletariat. For that reason, successful revolutions, even those of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, are always incited and led by thinkers, scholars, and philosophers from the bourgeoisie. Based on their superior intelligence and education, these intellectuals are most qualified to know what is best for the people and to provide them with selfless leadership during a revolution and expert management in the post-revolutionary period.

Successful revolutions also require a system of political beliefs called an ideology. In the American revolution, it was constitutional republicanism and independence. In the French revolution, it was egalitarian populist liberation. In the Bolshevik revolution, it was collectivism and the abolition of class.

An ideology must be clearly defined before and during a revolution; it can be modified afterwards if need be. Ideological abstractions are preferably distilled into a single word or a simple phrase able to trigger the emotions and become a common cause. The cause must be understandable by the masses, appealing to them, tailored to the oppression of the time and place, invoking liberation from the oppression, and adaptable to slogans. Ideology is what holds revolutionaries together and empowers them to convince others to become true believers willing to sacrifice and die for the cause. From these vanguards of early recruits comes the multi-level leadership that makes the revolution sustainable.

Every revolution, just as every justifiable war, also needs an identifiable enemy. The enemy can be an opposing ideology, a system, a nation, a people, or a person. The leader of the opposition, if not genuinely evil, can be demonized and dehumanized through effective disinformation. Early control of the media for this purpose is essential.

Successful revolutions also require funding, especially if they result in a revolutionary war. Like all warring factions, revolutionaries consume expensive armaments and human capital. Since they have neither a national treasury nor the power to issue bonds or create money, they need outside funds. Sources of funding must be secured prior to a revolution and remain hidden at least in the planning stage. Financial institutions profit from war and will support both sides of any conflict. Funding can also come from charitable foundations, NGOs, and treasonous elements within a country, or covertly from the security apparatus or foreign ministry of another country.

Finally, successful revolutions need the support of the people, a manufactured consent which is best achieved through control of the media. The propaganda function of the corporate media has been well documented and was instrumental in the postmodern cultural revolutions in Western Europe and North America.

Note:  A cultural revolution can bring regime change just as effectively as a revolutionary war. Cultural transformation preserves valuable infrastructure and is less expensive and messy than a violent revolution. Nonviolent change, on the other hand, impacts the profitability of the capitalist industries that manufacture and sell the instruments of war, the banks that loan the money to pay for them, and the construction industries that rebuild what the weapons of war destroy. Postwar reconstruction contracts can be highly lucrative and depend on residential, commercial, industrial, and infrastructure destruction. It is apparent that traditional Marxist-Leninists who favor violent revolution, former-Trotskyist neoconservatives, and neoliberals who incite regime change for human rights violations are, in effect, supporting the industrial and financial capitalism of the war profiteers.

New Left – a term applied to the counterculture activist movements in Western Europe and North America from the late 1950s through the 1960s.

These movements were led by university students who formed organizations across many campuses. Some were open and peaceful, like the Students for a Democratic Society, while others were covert and violent, such as the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, FALN, and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Their direct actions ranged from relatively peaceful protests to mass demonstrations, forceful occupation of administrative offices, provocation of the police, civil disobedience, and acts of terrorism like the bombing of police stations and public buildings. They demonstrated against the Viet Nam War and for civil rights, against cultural oppression and for feminine sexual liberation. They were feminist and environmentalist, anti-government, anti-authority, anti-war, anti-military, anti-nuclear, anti-imperial, anti-establishment, and anti-American. Their academic mentors were neo-Marxist Critical Theorists, Freudians, Trotskyites, Maoists, Gramscians, and an assortment of nihilists, anarchists, deconstructionists, and existentialists.

The New Left was not a revolution of the proletariat. In the archetypical Marxist socio-political class struggle, bourgeois activists incite an oppressed proletariat to a revolution against bourgeois oppressors. The bourgeois activists, of course, remain the leaders in a movement ostensibly against themselves. In the case of the New Left, bourgeois student activists staged a revolution against their own class without the involvement of a proletariat that they hardly knew. “Secretaries, cafeteria workers, and janitors of the world unite!” could never be the call-to-arms of a successful revolution. As a result, they demanded and achieved cultural changes, as planned by their Marxist academic mentors, but no political transformation to full-blown socialism or Communism.

One thought on “Confronting Anti-Blackness at Princeton University’s Policy School – Graduate Program Petition”

  1. Yesterday, Princeton University removed Woodrow Wildon’s name from its School of Public and International Affairs. This victory for the students of color and their allies demonstrates the wokeness of Princeton’s administration to its own institutional racism and history of white supremacism. It took courage to otherize Wilson and erase his legacy as former President of Princeton University, Governor of New Jersey, and President of the United States. Gratifyingly, his whiteness did not protect him as it did in the past. It is hoped that the many high schools named after this vile racist will also follow suit.

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