On Monday, January 18, 2021, the Office of Wintersession and Campus Engagement and the Carl A. Fields Center launched a virtual gallery, To Be Known and Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University, with a live-streamed event in which attendees could tour the gallery while a roundtable of Princeton faculty reflected on the legacy that the gallery confronts.
The gallery presents a visual narrative from the University’s founding to the present, with a chronology of key moments and people, and thematic sections for exploring activism through the years, current anti-racism resources, and visions for a more equal and just University and world.
The roundtable discussion marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the start of the University’s inaugural Wintersession.
Program in American Studies executive committee members Brian Herrera, associate professor of theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts, and Beth Lew-Williams, associate professor of history, discussed with Tera Hunter, the Edwards Professor of American History and professor of history and African American studies, and Dan-el Padilla Peralta, associate professor of classics. Tennille Haynes, director of the Carl A. Fields Center, and Judy Jarvis, director of Wintersession and campus engagement, facilitated, and moderated audience questions.
Faculty participants related episodes in University history to broader events and contemporaneous trends, and traced how those episodes resonate or have been obscured today.
Herrera connected a gallery image of students in blackface, in a 1949 Princeton Triangle Club performance, to the history of United States popular performance. Herrera noted that — though minstrel shows had by the mid-20th century declined in popularity from being a dominant form of commercial popular entertainment in the 1880s and 1890s — the 1940s saw a peak in popularity for amateur minstrel performances, such as shown in the photo.
“Princeton’s story is always in conversation,” Herrera said, “with what’s going on nationally.”
Lew-Williams connected protests in 1995 by Asian American and Latinx students to protests in 2015 by Black students.
“When we look back at these histories, I see many student groups building on each other, sometimes whether they know it or not,” she said.
Lew-Williams said that she has seen, since the protests of the summer of 2020, talk across departments about ways to affect greater equity and justice, aligned with President Eisgruber’s call for self-reflection by all campus units.
“In the Committee on Campus Life, we see staff and students, graduate students and undergraduates, faculty from multiple departments, all coming together, all talking about the important questions of how to improve,” Lew Williams said, “and to talk about specific changes that can be made within specific units, that can be coordinated across campus life.”
A video of the roundtable discussion is viewable by students, faculty and staff on the University’s Media Central website. The gallery is open to the public, and includes links to further resources, and opportunities to comment.
The gallery was built by Isometric Studio. The Program in American Studies participated in an advisory group on the gallery’s creation, and cosponsored with the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, University Archives, Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, the Campus Conversations on Identities Fund, the departments of history and sociology and the Humanities Council.