February 14, 2007: From the Editor
In January, Princeton, which has worked hard in recent years to dispel an old image of being unfriendly to minorities, took a black eye in the national press when The Daily Princetonian’s annual joke issue included a column widely viewed as being anti-Asian. The column was intended to be a takeoff on Jian Li, a New Jersey student, now at Yale, who filed a federal civil rights complaint against Princeton after he was denied admission. Li claimed that the University discriminated against him because he is Asian.
The Jan. 17 column, which carried the byline “Lian Ji,” was written in broken English, and was rife with racial stereotypes. In an editors’ note published later, Prince editors said they published the column to “lampoon racism by showing it at its most outrageous.” Two subsequent issues of the Prince were filled with letters from students and alumni. Many expressed disappointment and disgust; some said that they understood that no offense was intended; a few wrote that they appreciated the column because it sparked a discussion about racism.
Many students and alumni said they hoped to turn the incident into an “educable moment.” Writing in the Prince, April Chou ’96, a leader of the Asian American Alumni Association, proposed forums during alumni gatherings to discuss “the real issues at hand — equity and access, mainstream and margins, history and legacy,” and “why courses in Asian-American studies have a role to play in the life of the University.” The Jan. 22 Prince carried a statement signed by editors and by leaders of the Asian American Students Association, announcing that they would hold a discussion after intersession “for all community members to share their opinions,” and that the Prince would “renew its commitment to telling the stories of minorities on campus.”
This issue of PAW includes an excerpt of a talk on diversity at Princeton by former president William G. Bowen *58. His talk, along with the Lian Ji complaint and the Prince column, shows how complicated discussions of race can be. Bowen addresses race and community, and points to the need for race-sensitive admission policies. Yet the experiences of different minority groups vary widely. A 2004 survey of juniors at six universities, including Princeton, found that overall, Asian students — who make up a diverse group themselves — were somewhat less satisfied with their college academic and social experiences than white, black, and Hispanic students. Hispanic students were generally the most satisfied with the academic experience; white students had the most satisfactory social experience. In addition, research on the “opportunity cost” of various admission preferences by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade *72 suggests that Asians would gain if race were not considered in elite-college admissions. But eliminating affirmative action would “substantially reduce” the number of African-American and Hispanic students, he found.
In Bowen’s talk, which begins on page 20, the former president notes the tremendous progress Princeton has made in recruiting a diverse student body. He also points to some of the challenges ahead — for example, in achieving income diversity as well as ethnic diversity. There remains, he reminds alumni, “what is clearly an unfinished agenda.”