EXCLUSIVE: An open letter to freshmen from the Princeton Open Campus Coalition

‘You didn’t get into college with your hand held, and you don’t need your hand held now’

The Princeton Open Campus Coalition was founded last fall in light of the Black Justice League protest and subsequent sit-in in President Eisgruber’s office.

They have exclusively released an open letter for the new freshmen to The Tab. In it, they decry safe spaces and “shutdown culture” while praising the University of Chicago for combating an “intellectually closed culture” created by these safe spaces. They also reaffirm their commitment to “a campus where students expand their horizons through honest conversations in an openly diverse community.”

We have included the full letter below.

An open letter to freshmen from the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC)

Welcome to campus.

You’re about to make friends for life, explore academically, and enter the next phase of your career. Surrounded by scholars and classmates, there’s little you shouldn’t be able to learn. But you may soon discover that your classmates, teachers, or administrators might try to make learning impossible.

Increasingly, campuses have begun to discriminate against certain ideas. Greedy students are choosing to “empower” themselves by shouting down speakers, often demanding that the University ban certain ideas or speakers from campus. This isn’t hypothetical: it’s a reality spreading across the country. Last spring, for example, the leadership at Virginia Tech disinvited Jason Riley, a black Wall Street Journal columnist, for fear of protests against his controversial 2014 novel Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice backed out of her commencement speech at Rutgers University after students and faculty protested her involvement in the Iraq War during the Bush administration.

John Brennan, Director of the CIA, was shouted down at the University of Pennsylvania by students protesting the American drone program. The protesters refused to hear from the expert when he attempted to respond to their concerns, and ultimately he had to be escorted out of the auditorium.

Janet Mock, a black trans woman and trans rights activist, canceled her talk at Brown University because protesters were angry that her visit was sponsored by Brown/RISD Hillel, a pro Israeli group on campus.

Ben Shapiro, a political journalist and lawyer, was banned from DePaul University because intolerant students threatened to riot and the administration could not guarantee his physical safety.

It is common sense that this “shutdown culture” is harmful to too many students on too many campuses. How are we to learn in such sterilized and repressive environments? Controversial speakers who add new ideas to those of professors and students are invaluable to intellectual diversity and growth in a university: it is only when we are exposed to new ideas, when our dearly-held beliefs are challenged, that we are able to determine right from wrong – to seek any semblance of the truth.

As you may have heard from family or friends eager to share college-related news with you, the University of Chicago’s administration is striving to combat this intellectually closed culture. Its letter to the incoming class of 2020 decries “disinvitations” and intellectual “safe spaces”. These particular “safe spaces” are less about safety and more about the inequality of ideas: in them, certain ideas are permitted while others are discouraged or silenced, whether because of the actual words framing the ideas or because of the person speaking them. Of course, there are real dangers from which your administrators should protect you, but surely ideas aren’t one of them. The University of Chicago recognizes that uncomfortable ideas are essential to growth, change, experience, and for “members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement.”

We applaud the University of Chicago’s efforts, and we recognize that the “shutdown culture” extends beyond simply disinviting and shouting down guest speakers. When protesters occupied Princeton’s main administrative building last year, they made no pretenses about their intentions: they marched into Eisgruber’s office with megaphones because they weren’t there to listen, but only to be heard. During their protest, they pressured dissenting students to leave, insisted that student reporters not cover their behavior, and made demands of the entire student body, faculty, and administration.

Throughout the ordeal, we discovered how harmful the protest had been to interpersonal and intellectual health on campus. Students who approached the protesters with honest questions were mocked and shooed away. Most students feared disagreeing with the protest in public, lest they be branded racists or otherwise slandered in front of classmates. We formed POCC to give students an equal opportunity to be heard in a sustainable campus climate, without shutting down controversial ideas or unpopular discussions. We believe in an open campus, where we can listen to and challenge even the most uncomfortable ideas, judging them against our best ideas in a supportive communal environment.

You didn’t get into college with your hand held, and you don’t need your hand held now. With so many obstacles already facing students today, surely we can reach a consensus that all voices have a right to be heard. You deserve a college campus that, from the top down, affirms the importance of controversial ideas – a campus where students expand their horizons through honest conversations in an openly diverse community. Join us in the fight for Open Campuses across the country. Speak up. Help others speak up. And never be afraid to speak truth to power.

– The Princeton Open Campus Coalition

You can also find the interview we did with the POCC in November, as well as their original letter to President Eisgruber here.

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