Prelude to An Open Love Letter to Princeton
By Kwanza Jones
There is always a beginning. This one started with an unceremonious end. In life, as in art, color and context add depth and meaning. Although my Open Love Letter to Princeton can stand on its own, it is built upon this foundation. It’s 3:08 in the morning. I am here. In July 2018, I shared this story with Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber. It was 25 years in the making…
Re: Annual Giving 2018
Last week José and I received your handwritten note of thanks for our Annual Giving gift. You expressed you were sorry to have missed us during our time on campus. I, too, have a note to share with you. I felt compelled to send this given it describes why you missed us and what happened as a result of our gift.
No Seat at the Table for Million Dollar Donors of Color
Despite President Eisgruber’s promise of diversity and inclusion on 60 Minutes, Princeton University alumni of color turned away from donor event after $1mm donation.
This is the headline that describes the events that happened to me and José during our recent visit to Princeton for Reunions.
I was excited as I took the 5 minute walk from Nassau Inn to Nassau Hall. With each step, I reflected on the combination of hard work, sacrifice, preparation, dedication and dose of luck that led to me and José (a Princeton alumnus, my spouse/partner in work and life) being invited to attend the gathering for the critical few, as a result of our donation of more than $1,000,000 through the Kwanza Jones and José E. Feliciano Initiative. With each step, I was filled with pride and gratitude to those who had come before; those who helped make it possible for us to be in a position to have a seat at the table, in the room where it happens.
What should have been the kickoff of a major Reunion celebration, instead turned into an unceremonious exit through the hallowed halls of Nassau Hall.
We Stood Out, Michelle and Me
It reminded me of times and people past (and present) who felt the sting of being considered an “other,” of being in a place but not of the place, of not belonging, despite the lip service paid otherwise. It reminded me of some of my experiences at Princeton. It reminded me of what others may have experienced, including our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, when she commented that Princeton’s student body was generally white and well-to-do. I’d never stood out in a crowd or a classroom because of the color of my skin before.
Like Michelle, José and I stood out in the room on Friday, June 1st. We were the most obvious black and brown people in the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall. And we were the only ones who were told we did not belong.
This “Karen” is Cathy
A dear friend of mine, a fellow alumna, witnessed the tail end of what occurred. Almost immediately after the incident, she sent me this text — I’m so sorry Cathy sent you away.
I responded to her, Me too. It seems some things don’t change, even with a $1mm+ donation... As with so many things in life, it’s not always what was done, it’s how it was done too.
(N.B. The “Cathy” she was referring to is Catherine Weber who works in Development for the University as a Senior Associate Director for Annual Giving. Cathy, on your behalf, extended the invitation to meet with you. She received my RSVP for both me AND José. She was aware we would both be attending the event in your office. She was the one who greeted us and was checking names off an RSVP list. She was the one who denied us entry).
I felt so many things in that moment, and afterwards. I was shocked, saddened, frustrated, dismayed and outraged. I had worked so hard to forge favorable memories of Princeton. I had consciously made a choice to ignore the adverse impact of others’ ignorance and actions. Cathy’s actions instantly transported me back to years before, during my undergraduate days. I returned to incidents that I did not want to become highlights of my Princeton experience.
Of Race and Gender
Some of my experiences were interactions with both Princeton students and university officials. They included:
- A caucasian student telling me after a lecture – I hate all black people at Princeton. They only got in because of affirmative action and that’s why my friend didn’t get in.
- Numerous voicemail messages left on my phone by a Princeton student saying – You’re a nigger bitch.
- A senior male university official telling me, after I requested postponing a three hour final exam due to debilitating menstrual cramps – My wife and daughter never have cramps so you shouldn’t either. I need proof from your doctor.
Victim or Victor
I am not alone. I know numerous others who encountered similar sorts of challenges, traumas and offenses at Princeton. A friend told me, it’s only when you come back to Princeton that you begin to heal.
I have never thought of myself as hurt and in need of healing. Instead, I am quite the opposite.
I am Kwanza Jones.
This is what I live, believe and instill in myself and others daily.
The Past Propels Me
Accordingly, instead of being embittered by those experiences, and more, I let the past propel me.
Everything that I am and will be is a direct result of all that I have been and choose to become… and I choose to be empowered.
I am a Princeton alumna, my husband, José E. Feliciano, is an alumnus, my sister, Dr. Meta DuEwa Jones, is an alumna. We are proud people of color (African American and Puerto Rican) that are equally as proud of having been accepted to attend, and successfully earned our degrees from, this esteemed institute of higher learning.
The Power of Choice
Princeton has had a transformative effect on my life. That rings true for my spouse and my sister too. That is one of the reasons we choose to give to Princeton. In fact, I have a perfect record of Annual Giving.
This year’s Annual Giving gift was a small part of a much larger contemplated plan for ongoing capital and annual giving contributions to the University. It was a continuation of our philanthropy in support of furthering educational opportunities and initiatives. It was our way of being able to be a positive part of the transformative Princeton experience.
Now, as a direct result of the June 1st incident, we are in the process of reconsidering how we direct our philanthropic efforts. José and I must use the most powerful of all tools… CHOICE.
Silent No More
My knee-jerk reaction was to write this missive immediately after the June 1st incident in Nassau Hall occurred. I had numerous internal debates about whether I should send it. I waited to see if my outrage would subside. I wondered what action, if any, would be taken as a result of making this incident known. The outrage subsided. The bitterness did not.
Ultimately, I am making a choice to send this note because Cathy may have disregarded us, dismissed us and denied us entry, but she can never silence us nor take away our Princeton education, accomplishments and life experiences. Although, she may have diminished our devotion to donate to Princeton.
With best regards and much concern,
Read Part 1: An Open Love Letter to Princeton
Share this article: