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Praising the University’s Support for Free Expression and Encouraging USG’s Political Neutrality

In the wake of the shooting in Parkland, there has been significant nationwide debate over gun reform. In response, last week, Princeton affirmed applicants’ right to peaceful protest by stating that they would not be disadvantaged for resulting disciplinary action. At the same time, many campus groups have been working to organize an on-campus protest regarding gun violence, which USG had considered endorsing. While the Board praises the University’s statement regarding applicants’ right to peaceful protest and supports student groups’ right to protest, the Board believes that for USG to take a political stance on the issue would be antithetical and destructive to its purpose as an organization.

USG exists to represent the student body as a whole, and as such, the Board believes it should function as an apolitical organization to respect the diverse set of beliefs held its by its student body. Even when student opinion overwhelmingly supports one side of a given issue, there will always be students who fall on the other side. By taking a political stance, USG could marginalize the voices of students with differing opinions and prematurely shut down debate, creating a chilling effect on the speech of students who go against the official stance. Because USG is in charge of funding student groups, an official stance could also generate concerns that only groups supporting their stance would be funded, thus discouraging dissenting groups from getting the funding they need and limiting campus discourse. Further, USG serves a unique function on campus of working with the administration on the student body’s behalf and hosting events that “foster a sense of community.” Given that political stances and events are inherently divisive, this endorsement would be inconsistent with USG’s mission. As such, the Board also opposes the creation of a Public Engagement Chair, whose job would entail, in part, political advocacy on USG’s behalf.

The Board notes that there are already a large number of political activism groups on campus advocating on behalf of issues across the political spectrum. The precedent of discussing and endorsing one political issue could put USG under pressure to discuss all relevant political issues, which would take considerable time due to the high levels of student engagement at Princeton. Given the incredible number of projects USG works to accomplish, it does not make sense for them to spend their already scarce time debating issues outside their purview, especially when these issues are already being worked on by many other student groups.

The Board has consistently defended the right to free speech and debate, and praises the University for upholding these rights in the application process by not disadvantaging students for engaging in peaceful protest. Additionally, while the Board supports the right of student groups to peacefully protest, it does not support USG endorsement of a particular protest or political cause; this would both chill student discourse and be inconsistent with USG’s stated mission. Though in this case, it appears USG has decided not to endorse the protest, there was support for endorsement by several USG members. The Board believes USG should continue to remain neutral on this topic and other political topics in the future.

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