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An update on Princeton’s ongoing efforts to address systemic racism

A professorship in Indigenous studies, grant programs for anti-racism research and new partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are some of the initiatives launched this academic year as part of Princeton’s campus-wide commitment to combat systemic racism.

Last summer, the University announced an initiative to address America’s record of structural inequality and racism as well as Princeton’s place in that history. Now, the University is providing an interim update on these ongoing efforts. An inaugural annual report charting the University’s progress will be released in the fall.

“We must ask how Princeton can address systemic racism in the world, and we must also ask how to address it within our own community,” Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said last September in letter to the campus community. “That is true even though, for at least the past fifty years, this University has committed itself to becoming more inclusive.”

Last summer, Eisgruber charged the University Cabinet — senior academic and administrative leaders — with developing action plans and programs to address systemic racism at Princeton and beyond.

“As a University, we must examine all aspects of this institution — from our scholarly work to our daily operations—with a critical eye and a bias toward action. This will be an ongoing process, one that depends on concrete and reasoned steps,” Eisgruber wrote last June.

Cabinet officers have now developed racial equity action plans, with some programs underway and some in development. The plans focus on the strategic goals including the diversification of the faculty and the faculty pipeline; staff recruitment and retention; diversification of the student body; institutional history; and the inclusivity of campus climate for all populations.

“The action plans address these goals in different ways given the functions and spheres of influence of each unit,” said Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity. “All of the racial equity action plans recognize that addressing systemic racism requires a willingness to interrogate familiar patterns, policies and practices. The action plans are living documents that will continue to evolve over time.”

Many of the cabinet-driven initiatives include new activities that have begun over the past six months. For example: changes to best practices for enhancing diversity in faculty searches in the School of Engineering and Applied Science; curricular redesign in the School of Public and International Affairs; the new Inclusive Leadership Learning Cohort in the Graduate School; the appointment of an external review committee to assess equity, diversity and inclusion at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory; the Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO)’s participation in Howard University’s 21st Century Advantage Program, a career services mentoring and recruitment program; the creation of a high school counselor advisory council in the Office of Undergraduate Admission; and much more.

Other initiatives formalize University-wide practices. Following last year’s decision to observe Juneteenth — the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States — the University has moved to commemorate Juneteenth annually as an official University holiday. Working with members of the community, the University will develop collaborative programming to include education, conversation and engagement as part of our observation of the holiday. (Update: To increase awareness and understanding of the holiday, Human Resources will offer the opportunity for staff to receive a copy of Annette Gordon-Reed's new book On Juneteenth).  

Princeton has also made a commitment to conduct an external review of its racial equity and broader diversity initiatives every four years. This process will help the University to assess the impact of all its activities towards its goals synergistically. The first external review will take place in academic year 2024-25.

Below are examples of some of the new initiatives launched during the 2020-21 academic year. They include examples of University-wide and department-level commitments. The Racial Equity website has more information on the University’s existing and new diversity and inclusion efforts. The website will also provide updates as future programs are launched.

Explore the possibility of a new credit- or degree-granting program that would extend Princeton’s teaching to a new range of students from communities disproportionately affected by systemic racism and related forms of disadvantage

  • Provost Deborah Prentice is overseeing a significant extension of Princeton’s community education efforts in two workstreams. One workstream focuses on enhancing and in some cases expanding existing programs, including the Prison Teaching Initiative, the Princeton Online Tutoring Network and the undergraduate admission transfer program. The other workstream explores the development of a new, degree-granting program for adult learners.

Assemble a faculty that more closely reflects both the diverse make-up of the students we educate and the national pool of candidates; establish and strengthen parallel initiatives to diversify the pipeline of Princeton’s postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, visiting faculty and graduate students; and reconceive the Faculty Advisory Committee on Diversity

  • A new professorship of Indigenous studies will build on Princeton’s interdisciplinary strengths and expand its faculty expertise in an area of study that is critically important to the University. The professorship was endowed by a $5 million gift from the Schwab Charitable Fund, made possible by the generosity of Wendy and Eric Schmidt, Class of 1976, in consultation with the Schmidt Family Fund.
  • The Office of the Dean for Research (DFR) is developing several initiatives to support and grow a more inclusive research, innovation, and entrepreneurship ecosystem at Princeton University and beyond, including creating new innovation funds aimed at broadening participation in academic research and innovation. DFR will also launch a new initiative to help diversify the entrepreneurial workforce.
  • The Faculty Advisory Committee on Diversity (FACD) advises the President, the Provost, and the Dean of the Faculty with regard to diversity and inclusivity issues, including specifically with regard to faculty hiring, policies, curriculum and campus climate.  A proposal for a re-conceived committee was approved by the full faculty last fall and new committee members elected by the full faculty in April 2021.
  • Twelve scholars from across the disciplines have been named Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows for academic year 2021-22. They will be the third cohort of fellows appointed at Princeton with the aim of enhancing diversity in the professoriate.

Develop an institution-wide, multi-year action plan for supplier and contractor diversity

  • The Office of Finance and Treasury has adopted a multi-year supplier diversity action plan. The plan aims to establish a more diverse supplier base for the University that will broaden the pool of supplier expertise, capabilities and perspectives, and include more businesses that are at least 51% owned and operated by people of color, women, veterans or members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Initiate a trustee-level ad hoc committee, augmented by students, faculty, alumni and staff from the Council of the Princeton University Committee on Naming, to recommend principles to govern changes in naming and other campus iconography

  • The Ad Hoc Committee on Principles to Govern Renaming and Changes to Campus Iconography was broadly charged with developing general principles to govern questions about when and under what circumstances it might be appropriate for the University to remove or contextualize the names and representations of individuals present on the Princeton campus. The committee, chaired by University Trustee Craig Robinson, Class of 1983, solicited feedback from the University and broader community. On April 30, the committee released its recommendations for overarching principles for naming, renaming and changing campus iconography.

Strengthen support for ongoing anti-racism and diversity-related professional development and other educational opportunities for the campus community

  • Thirty-three Princeton graduate students co-created and completed the Graduate School’s inaugural Inclusive Leadership Learning Cohort (ILLC) in fall 2020. The GradFUTURES Professional Development and Access, Diversity and Inclusion teams at the Graduate School led this new initiative, partnering with graduate students to shape the program as a platform for anti-racism efforts. The cohort centers on the understanding that local action and individual commitment are paramount for achieving significant and sustainable change.
  • The University has established the Ad Hoc Committee on Racial Equity and Diversity-Related Professional Development. The cross-institutional committee led by Human Resources and Institutional Equity and Diversity has been tasked with making recommendations for expansion of educational and training efforts using a range of formats and delivery vehicles across all campus populations. In addition, Human Resources and the Office of the Provost offer several trainings, workshops and online resources for faculty and staff related to diversity, equity and inclusion, including “Mitigating Bias in the Hiring Life Cycle,” “Inclusive Mentoring” and “Interrupting Bias in the Academic Search Process.” 

Supporting academic curricular and scholarly initiatives

  • The 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education gave its first set of faculty awards to support the development of courses that address systemic racism, racial injustice and/or the history of civil rights. New courses include the sociology class “Police Violence, #BlackLivesMatter and COVID-19” and the English class “Mourning America: Emerson and Douglass.”
  • The Humanities Council has funded several projects to address and confront systemic racism, in collaboration with artists, activists, scientists and journalists. Recent examples include a faculty symposium “Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America” and a student-led project to build broadband networks for Black and Latinx residents in Philadelphia. 
  • The School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) is engaged in a comprehensive review of its graduate core curriculum to assess how to incorporate issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into the core training in politics, economics, statistics and behavioral analysis for its master in public affairs (MPA) degree. The goal is for all MPA core courses to include greater focus on the differential impacts of policies based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and nationality.  A similar review will be conducted for the undergraduate program next year.
  • The Princeton University Library will expand its Archives Research and Collaborative History Program (ARCH), which introduces selected student participants from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to the archival field, how to use primary-source documents and potential career opportunities in cultural heritage professions.

Enhancing the student experience

  • The Princeton RISE (Recognizing Inequities and Standing for Equality) grant program is intended to foster students' enduring and sustained commitment to civic engagement. Students may apply for a grant to spend this summer working with a campus or community partner on a project that explores and advocates for racial justice broadly and provides opportunities to learn about societal inequities in areas such as health, criminal justice and education.
  • The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has convened the Public Safety Community Advisory Committee — made up of faculty, undergraduates, administrators and graduate students — to provide feedback, advice and suggestions for how Public Safety can best serve the University community. The committee is chaired by Dean for Diversity and Inclusion LaTanya Buck and Professor of Anthropology Laurence Ralph.
  • Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun organized two working groups to study Black and LGBTQ+ students’ experiences at the University in 2020. The Black Student Experience Committee — chaired by Tennille Haynes, the director of the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding — has completed its work. The working group presented its findings and recommendations to the Campus Life Leadership Council and an implementation committee to advance recommendations is being established.