Opening remarks as prepared for delivery on April 12, 2015, in the University Chapel
Thank you for coming to this gathering. I am glad to see so many of you here on this beautiful afternoon, when the outdoors beckons. I hope this gathering will give us a chance to reflect on problems that confront us, on differences that divide us, and on values that we share.
I have myself come mainly to listen, to learn, and to reflect, so I am going to try to be brief in these welcoming remarks.
I do, however, want to say some things about the occasion that brings us together.
As all of you know, this has been a difficult week for our campus.
Eruptions of hostile and thoughtless comments on Yik Yak have left many of our black students, and our LGBTQ students, feeling anguished, angry, and unwelcomed on this campus.
These hateful comments have no place at Princeton. The anonymous cowards who post these messages debase all of us with their ignorance and their contempt.
Of course, because they are anonymous, we cannot know who they are, or how numerous they are. For those of us in the majority culture, it is tempting to dismiss these cowards as few in number, or unimportant. “Not really us,” in other words.
But that overlooks a larger challenge, a challenge that those of us in the majority culture need to own and address.
The taunts and insults of the last week have been hurtful not only because of what they have said, but because of the other experiences that minority students have had on this campus.
On our campus and in our society, members of minority groups too often find themselves hurt, excluded or diminished by stereotypes, by ignorance, by thoughtlessness, and by hostility.
During the past week, I have talked to many people about the events that have disturbed this campus. I have been struck by many observations in the course of those conversations. I have been impressed, for example, by how much people on this campus love this University, and how much they want it to be a better and welcoming place. But I have also been startled by the tremendous gap in perspectives — how differently people see things.
Those of us in the majority culture often do not see the thoughtlessness or the insults borne by others. And we do not appreciate the feelings of exclusion that result.
We have a responsibility to change that. We have a responsibility to expand our perspectives and improve our campus climate, so that minority members of this community feel fully welcome and so that the anonymous cowards find no fertile ground here for their hatred or their ignorance.
I hope that today’s gathering can contribute to the change that we need, and I look forward to hearing from the speakers who follow.