Features - October 20, 1999
Protesters charged with trespassing
200 people protest professor Peter Singer's first day of class
A day of protest against the university's hiring of controversial bioethicist Peter Singer culminated September 21 in the arrest of 14 activists, who were dragged away from Nassau Hall after sealing off the building for two hours.
About 30 wheelchair-bound protesters and several other disability-rights advocates from Not Dead Yet barricaded all five entrances to Nassau Hall-trapping university officials inside and preventing at least two deans from entering-before being removed by Public Safety around 1:30 p.m.
At the Center for Human Values at 5 Ivy Lane, Singer's first seminar proceeded without incident. Public Safety officers rimmed the building to ensure that only authorized students would enter the class.
"Singer was an incredibly open and amiable man," said Hyeseung Song '01, one of Singer's students. "It was like a regular course."
Nevertheless, the day was anything but typical for more than a dozen Public Safety officers who found themselves attempting to police a rally that began outside FitzRandolph Gate at 10 a.m.
About 200 protesters, including pro-life, anti-euthanasia, and disabled-rights activists, stood in the steady rain, periodically chanting, "We're not dead yet," until 11:30 a.m. At that point the crowd began to pour through the gates and converge on Nassau Hall.
There they stayed until Public Safety, local police, and state troopers surrounded them with metal barricades, warned them to leave, and then charged them with trespassing and disorderly conduct.
The Princeton Borough Police helped proctors process the arrests but the physical removal of activists was left to campus security. None of those arrested were New Jersey residents.
Shortly after being dragged away from the north entrance of Nassau Hall, Not Dead Yet self-proclaimed "ambulatory wheelchair warrior" Eileen Sabel said that the "administration wouldn't give us the courtesy of a response, so we escalated," she said. Sabel added that it was the 40th time she had been arrested in the past decade.
University spokesman Justin Harmon '78 dismissed Not Dead Yet members as attention-seekers.
"This is their little moment of political theater, and they've been planning it for a while," he said.
Despite the intensity of yesterday's protest, it may well have marked Not Dead Yet's final appearance on campus.
Group president Diane Coleman said her organization would not return to campus. But New Jersey Right to Life Director of Public Affairs Marie Tasy said her group will continue to demonstrate at the university.
No university students were among the protesters blocking entrances to the building. Graduate student Chris Benek, president of Princeton Students Against Infanticide, a group that helped organize the rally, took pains to distance his organization from the activists who sealed off Nassau Hall.
"We have taken ourselves away from them because we don't want to do something that's against university policy," said Benek, who retreated to Nassau Street shortly after the standoff between protesters and Public Safety began to intensify.
Benek was one of only a few university students to attend the protest.
Others poured out of classes around noon; they gawked at the spectacle of protesters chained to doors, but most expressed indifference to Singer's appointment.
"I think it's good that there's political activism on campus," said Kelly Wells '03, who added that she was somewhat surprised to see such intense agitation at Princeton.
-Richard Just '01
and Emma Soichet '02
This article was adapted with permission from The Daily Princetonian.
Project 55 rekindles an interest in public service
A class-and students-respond to a challenge from Ralph Nader '55
Joy Radice '97 is communications director for the Appleseed Foundation, a Ralph Nader '55inspired organization that sets up public-interest law centers around the country. The centers attack systemic legal problems in society-rather than defend a tenant against a landlord in a specific dispute, for example, they look for the underlying problem and try to solve it, helping thousands of people instead of just one.
She came to her staff position at Appleseed via two summer internships she held while an undergraduate-one with Lawyers for Children, in New York City, and another with Chicago Women Employed-and a yearlong fellowship with Appleseed that followed her graduation.
Radice's two internships and fellowship came courtesy of Princeton Project 55. Established 10 years ago by members of the Class of 1955 when they turned 55 years old, it has since placed more than 700 students and recent Princeton graduates in public-interest positions around the country, while also leveraging nearly $6 million in stipends and salaries for them. Project 55's leaders estimate their projects have touched the lives of at least 5 million Americans.
"I've learned so much in such a short period of time," says Radice. "The people in the Class of 1955 are the most motivated and inspirational I've ever met."
Project 55's origins go back to a weekend in April 1989, when some 80 members of the Class of 1955 took part in a mini-reunion in Washington, D.C. After meeting with congressmen and other public officials, they gathered to hear some words from one of their most distinguished classmates, public advocate Ralph Nader. He proposed that the class create an organization that would expose Princeton undergraduates to the concept of civic responsibility by placing them with public-interest programs. Like all Princeton classes of a certain age, 1955 is dominated by lawyers, doctors, CEOs, and other successful people, many of whom are pillars of their communities. Collectively, argued Nader, they represented a vast network waiting to be tapped for the betterment of society.
Most of those classmates present at the creation give the same account of their response to Nader's challenge. Recalls Charles Bray '55, "A thrill ran through the crowd." Later, Nader realized that, perhaps for the first time in his career, he had asked an audience for less commitment to public service than it was willing to make. The following month, adds Bray, "we gathered 40 or 50 people at a second meeting and collected $75,000 in pledges. By the fall we'd registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and in December we held a press conference in Washington to announce our intentions. The Associated Press was there, and it generated stories all over the country."
Project 55 operates out of the Center for Civic Leadership, at 32 Nassau Street in Princeton, where it shares space with ReachOut 56 and the Class of 1969 Community Service Fund, two similar alumni-affiliated organizations inspired by Project 55. A staff of five oversees Project 55's programs, which are funded by donations and foundation grants. Its off-campus location underscores Project 55's structural and financial independence from the Class of 1955 and the university-its modest budget of $200,000 gets not a penny from the class treasury or Princeton. Project 55's leaders cite two main reasons for its freestanding status. First, not all members of the class support it (some would not support anything launched by Ralph Nader). Second, when Project 55 first came on the horizon, a few university administrators worried it might cut into Annual Giving. But fund-raisers' concerns have faded with the years, and the enthusiasm Project 55 has generated among class members has spurred many of them to become more involved in volunteer work for Princeton.
THE PUBLIC INTEREST PROGRAM
Although Project 55 has expanded to include more than internships and fellowships, these temporary jobs remain the heart of the organization. Its Public Interest Program, or PIP, places undergraduates or recent graduates in paid summer internships or yearlong fellowships with public-service organizations.
"It's a simple notion," says John Fish '55, a Chicagoan and the current president of Project 55, who is credited with getting PIP up and running in the organization's first year. "We found lots of Princeton students with talent and enthusiasm. But, partly due to limits of the campus's career-services office, they perceived that their only post-Princeton options were the corporate world or graduate school. Nonprofit organizations working for the public good were losing out in the process. The idea emerged that we could serve as a broker for the nonprofits. By so doing, we would be energizing the students and filling a real need."
Chet Safian '55, who coordinates the New York City-area PIP, elaborates: "Nonprofit organizations, especially smaller ones, have trouble finding good people to work for them. We screen Princeton applicants and refer the best-qualified ones. We start by sending a PIP coordinator to the nonprofit agency and securing a job description for either a summer internship or a one-year fellowship. Project 55 then advertises on the campus, and in December of each year students file their applications with us. Each applicant is interviewed by an area coordinator, and Project 55 refers three or four for each job. The nonprofit agency then interviews the applicants and selects one." It's important, he adds, "to realize that Project 55 doesn't pay the students. Their stipends are paid by the nonprofit organization. Successful applicants are also assigned mentors from Project 55 to help them acclimate to a new city and get them settled."
In recent years, Project 55 has expanded its scope to embrace several programs that take a more centralized approach to solving national or even global problems. One of these is its Tuberculosis Initiative (TBI).
TB is the world's number-one killer among diseases, annually infecting 8 million people worldwide and killing 3 million.
"One of the intentions of Project 55 was to identify problems that are being neglected," explains Gordon Douglas, Jr. '55, a physician and president of Merck Vaccines. "Tuberculosis qualifies. Our goals are to raise public aware-ness, support current control and prevention programs, and stimulate increased spending for research. We started off in general advocacy, but are now more specific in pushing research and vaccines-the answer to TB must be a vaccine."
At least partly as a result of Project 55, the National Institutes of Health's annual budget for TB research has jumped 10-fold in the last five years, to $30 million. And TBI was the first to bring tuberculosis to the attention of USAID, which invited the initiative to help develop a plan to spend $10 million in new resources in combating the disease.
TBI today is the only U.S. advocacy group focusing solely on TB. Last December, it hosted a legislative strategy session with major health-advocacy groups. It has been working with the State Department on an ambassadorial outreach program, and plans to brief members of Congress who control funding for TB research.
Project 55 has launched three programs that in one way or another relate to education. Its Experiential Education Initiative (EEI) attempts to place undergraduates in situations where, beyond the confines of the classroom, they learn by doing while also addressing social problems.
"Bringing experiential learning into the classroom at a university is a huge change," Charles Bray says. "Professors are taught to teach by lecturing, and they're not always comfortable coaching students to learn. No one should underestimate the difficulty of bringing about this change."
EEI has enlisted the help of professors who have agreed to introduce experiential learning in their courses. Professor Thomas Spiro's Chemistry 112 puts undergraduates to work with at-risk students in a Trenton elementary school. The Princeton students are asked to create a Website that the Trenton students can use for interactive instruction in chemistry. As part of Assistant Professor Eric Oliver's course in urban politics, students compiled data for a Trenton Urban League study and met with the mayor and city council to discuss their findings. For an oral-history project in Associate Professor Miguel Centeno's course on the sociology of Latinos, students interviewed members of Princeton Borough's large Latino community.
Other Project 55 programs have included ones on character education and school mentoring. Its Character Education Initiative (CEI) was launched in 1991 with the goal of helping young people learn such basic values as honesty, fairness, and responsibility. CEI cosponsored a national conference on character education and became a charter founder of the Character Education Partnership (www.character.org). In part as a result of its efforts, today 21 states have character-education programs.
A NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS
Both older and younger alumni-those who organize and oversee Project 55's various initiatives and those who work at the grassroots level to implement them-benefit from participation in its various projects, and the lives of some younger graduates have been forever affected.
As an undergraduate, Julia Hinckley '96 assumed she would go to law school after graduation, but she changed her plans after a Project 55 internship in the summer between junior and senior years. The internship was at a drug-rehabilitation center for women in Norwalk, Connecticut, where she did everything from driving a van, to assisting the women to find employment, to helping them in their group-therapy sessions.
"It was amazing, a great job," she says. "I knew this type of work was definitely for me, because I found I didn't need external praise as I did in journalism. I also learned that I wanted to work on these issues but that I wasn't cut out for client service."
She applied to Project 55 for a postgraduate fellowship and spent two years in Princeton on its staff, first as program director and then as executive director. Hinckley applied to, and was accepted by, the University of Pennsylvania's law school, but decided to continue in public service. She now works as assistant managing director of Philadelphia's department of public housing, where her efforts go to caring for the homeless.
Or take the case of Bill Kurtz '91, the principal at Link Community School, a 125-student alternative middle school in Newark, New Jersey, that demands of its students (and their parents) a commitment to work hard. Kurtz started as an analyst on Wall Street, where he spent four years with Chase Manhattan Bank. He jettisoned a career in finance to take a one-year Project 55 fellowship as an administrator at Holy Cross School in the Bronx, where he wound up as principal and stayed three and a half years before moving on to Link.
Paige Ponder '96, whom Kurtz hired as a Project 55 fellow at Holy Cross, is now that school's assistant principal for finance and development. She recently raised money for a computer lab and helped secure a multiyear grant from the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Ponder, in turn, is now hiring another Project 55 fellow for the school.
Most of Project 55's founders are now 66 years old, and while remaining remarkably active in the organization they are seeking ways to perpetuate its mission after they're no longer involved. Its board of directors, whose 23 members include five from classes other than 1955, has been exploring how best to do this. The board is committed indefinitely to Project 55's flagship program for internships and fellowships, and it expects for the foreseeable future to continue its initiatives for fighting TB and promoting experiential education. It has launched an effort to document the impact of the Public Interest Program on alumni and host organizations. And it is in the early stages of planning a campaign to raise an endowment.
The man whose challenge was the catalyst for Project 55's founding calls it "a great success" spawned by a "spontaneous eruption of enthusiasm." Adds Ralph Nader, "However, I'm puzzled why most other classes haven't done the same thing. The potential is so great. We've hardly tapped the full measure of our class. If we had 300 similar alumni classes from all over the country, all attacking America's problems, what could we accomplish?"
Tony Carroll '66 is a freelance writer based in Norristown, Pennsylvania. More information about Project 55 is available by calling 609-921-8808 or by checking its Website, www.project55.org
A Field Semester of Dreams
Sixteen Princeton juniors who went to Panama to study ecology underwent their own evolution
I squinted up at the sky through holes in the leaves of a small tree. "Twenty . . . fifteen . . . thirty-five . . .," I said to my field partner, Sharon Lee, as I estimated the percentage of each leaf that had been eaten by insects. She recorded each number in her field book, the pages of which had gone limp and wavy in the tropical humidity. Twisting lianas as thick as my thigh had draped themselves on the tree branches above us, and brightly colored birds flashed across gaps in the canopy. We were in class on Barro Colorado Island in Lake Gatun, part of the Panama Canal. Our professor, Stephen Hubbell, had told us, "the biology of the tropics is about the biology of being rare."
Sharon and I were looking for a correlation between rarity and herbivory, the insect consumption of foliage. Rarity interests ecologists because most of the species that account for tropical biodiversity are rare. We wondered if rare trees are rare because they, for some reason, fall prey to more herbivory. Or is the opposite true: Do rare trees escape herbivory because the insects that like to eat them cannot find them as easily? These were the kinds of questions we learned to ask in Hubbell's course, Tropical Biology (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology 338).
Tropical Biology was the first of four three-week courses that 16 of us, all juniors in Princeton's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) department, took in Panama over the spring semester of 1999. The program, a cooperative effort between Princeton University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, sent its first group of undergraduates to spend the semester in Panama in the spring of 1998. Originally paid for by the President's 250th Anniversary Fund, the field semester continues thanks to gifts from David B. Jenner '51. Those of us who participated in the program earlier this year quickly came to see Hubbell, who recently left Princeton for the University of Georgia, as its heart.
"We know almost nothing"
We lived in Gamboa. Forty-five minutes from Panama City, Gamboa nestles into the rainforest on the eastern side of the canal, where the Chagres River empties into Lake Gatun. Most of the residents of this small planned community are associated either with the Smithsonian or with the Dredging Division for the Canal. Two Panamanian students joined the course and lived with us in an old schoolhouse owned by the Smithsonian. A man named Ernesto took care of the building and his wife, Frances, fed us permutations of Panamanian standards such as chicken, rice, beans, and plantains. From the schoolhouse we could see container ships in the canal. At dinner we saw mango and palm trees silhouetted in black against the orange-purple sky.
From Gamboa we took day trips south to the Pacific or north to the Caribbean, and longer journeys east and west into the interior. We drank coconut milk in an indigenous village in Darien province. We spent hours on dusty roads, crammed into a small van and a pickup truck. Hubbell told us that when he drove down the Pan-American Highway as a child it had been like driving through a tunnel, the forest was so thick. We rolled past thin cows on deforested land originally cleared for agriculture. The soil beneath tropical rainforests is nutrient-poor and quickly becomes worthless for crops. Besides cattle ranches, we saw hillsides planted with neat rows of teak, one Indonesian species replacing hundreds of native species.
"What you should be beginning to understand, " Hubbell said halfway through his tropical biology course, "is that we know almost nothing." We stood high on a cordillera in a cloud forest that intercepted moist Atlantic trade winds. The trees fading away into mist around us were festooned by a confusing tangle of dripping vines, mosses, bromeliads, orchids, and other epiphytic plants. Here we saw the diversity of the tropics at its lushest. The four scientists with us that day seemed as stymied as we were by the density of strange life forms in the cloud forest. We kept asking questions. Why were so many of the leaves textured, covered in ridges and hairs? What accounts for the gigantism we saw at this high altitude? How could a four-foot club moss function here? We could only guess at the answers.
The Cave of the Vampires
Unanswered questions also abounded in the second of our four sequential courses, Pre-Columbian People of Tropical America and Their Environments (EEB 332). We spent a week on the Azuera Peninsula near the town of Chitre, visiting archaeological sites with British-born Smithsonian archaeologist Richard Cooke. One afternoon we drove miles across a high tidal flat to Cueva de los Vampiros (Cave of the Vampires), a site that had been a fishing camp for thousands of years. We jolted along a narrow, raised road between shrimp tanks until we reached a gravel fill scattered with machinery. It appeared to be the end of the shrimp operation, if not the end of the earth. Cooke emitted a cry of distress followed by an amusing British expletive and jumped out of the truck.
Then we saw the site to the right, a big outcropping of rock with hardy plants and trees growing on top and around it. It looked as if a backhoe belonging to the shrimp operation had been mucking with the mound of dirt at the base of the rock. A hot wind blew, and vampire bats flew in and out of crevices in the rock. Cooke quickly calmed down and explained that the damage to the site had been minimal. "They took off the last 500 years of pre-Columbian occupation," he said casually. No big deal. Cooke had done only preliminary digging at this site. If he had the time and money, he told us, he would dig down through the years and see how life changed for the Native Americans who lived and fished at the Cave of the Vampires. He would see what species of fish they ate and what tools they used. But this is just one site among many, and work needs to be done at all of them. Cooke picked up a rock, said "Here's an axe," and pitched it back on the pile.
Parrotfish and damselfish
Axes have been mostly replaced by chain saws in Panama, and in some cases, by big Caterpillar tractors that can clear a square kilometer of forest in three days. In our third course, Tropical Conservation Biology (EEB 344), we grappled with the question of how to preserve biodiversity in the tropics and still accommodate the growing human population. We traveled more for this course than for any other, and talked to families who used the land. We observed organic farms and plantations of native rainforest trees, two of the less disruptive kinds of land use in Panama.
We took our last course on Bocas del Toro, an island that is part of Panama but culturally Caribbean. For the final three weeks of the program, we split into two groups and took two different courses. Nine students stayed in Bocas Town with Princeton EEB professor Steven Pacala, his brother-in-law Peter, and several graduate students. In their course, Biology of Coral Reefs (EEB 346), those nine students became part of a research team, gathering data on what factors affect the path of parrotfish through damselfish-inhabited areas of the reef. I was one of the nine students who took Marine Invertebrate Zoology (EEB 334), taught by a young Canadian biologist named Jan Locke. We lived out on a peninsula in the Mangrove Inn, a handful of small wooden buildings on pilings, connected by board-walks. Surrounded by mangroves, the inn was only accessible by skiff. We heard lectures in the mornings, and in the afternoons we snorkeled around reefs, mangroves, and sea-grass beds.
So many breakthroughs
Evenings we spent in the inn manager's small and dimly lit living room, peering through microscopes at the strange creatures we collected each day. Here we saw more exam-ples of intricacy and diversity, but our sense of wonder was tempered by our growing awareness of how threatened coral reefs are. In Panama, the two biggest threats to the reefs are increased sedimentation caused by deforestation, and an increase in the amount of sewage getting pumped over the reef as small coastal towns get bigger. In the last course we heard the words we had been hearing throughout the entire semester, that "work needs to be done" on these questions, and quickly.
If destruction and a lack of information were themes of our semester in Panama, so was excitement. Hubbell taught us to be skeptical and realistic, but he also shared his dogged enthusiasm. Unlike math or physics, he said, ecology offers the possibility of so many basic breakthroughs. He grinned at us and said, "It's anyone's game!"
Shored up by the energy of the scientists we met, we returned to Princeton in April, grateful for the vision of Hubbell and Dan Rubinstein, who jointly initiated the Panama program. Over the semester we had begun to see how to deal with what we did not know. Looking in on life in the tropics-and watching scientists try to untangle it-taught us what we could do despite our imperfect understanding of evolutionary biology. We could ask questions too, and if there was work to be done, we would roll up our sleeves and do it.
Lil Wood, a senior from Alaska, is majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology.
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