After Princeton University’s president admitted that the university suffered from alleged “systemic racism,” the Department of Education sent Princeton a letter on September 16 notifying the institution that the admission could violate federal laws.
Princeton’s response, made on September 17, to the federal agency was a statement on its website that proclaimed its innocence and claimed it is trying to clean up its own mess. It said that it “has long been committed to creating and maintaining a community where all can thrive.” Princeton added that it has complied with “laws and regulations governing equal opportunity, non-discrimination and harassment” despite the president’s statement about systemic racism.
On September 2, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber’s letter to Princeton’s community admitted that the university has not been treating its programs, students, or staff equally. “[Princeton], for most of its history, intentionally and systematically excluded people of color, women, Jews, and other minorities, Princetonians – from the oldest alumni to the newest undergraduates – now take pride in the diversity of our community.” He added, “Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton.
He said that the university will create more programs aimed at minority culture and communities, in addition to opening up research and academic positions for minority candidates.
Eisgruber concluded that Princeton will do better on inclusion and diversity and will “fight the systemic racism that has for too long damaged the lives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, both at this University and in the United States more broadly.”
The university reconciled the president’s remarks and its claims about legal compliance because it believes it is an institution that is “vigilant in our pursuit of equity in every aspect of our programs and operations.” Instead, the university blamed the federal agency for misinterpreting the president’s admission of guilt and wrote that the agency “appears to believe that grappling honesty with the nation’s history and the current effects of systemic racism runs afoul of existing law.” Princeton said it will explain, at a later time, why it can suffer from systemic racism yet comply with civil rights laws and regulations.
In short, Princeton University dodged the question of whether it has illegally obtained federal grants and funding after admitting its guilt of systemic racism. The letter fell short of absolving Princeton of its president’s statement and it could add more fuel to the fire for the Department of Education’s potential investigation.
Neither did Princeton University properly define the term systemic racism, but it used the phrase multiple times in its president’s letter. Academics coined the term to blame white American culture and America’s institutions as unfair and unequal towards minorities. Princeton failed to provide concrete examples of how America has failed minorities through its institutions and laws, and ironically, it highlighted its own failures in its relations with the minority community.