“It’s important … to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
– Toni Morrison, address at Portland State University, 1975.
Princeton University is recommitting itself to combating systemic injustice. Of the steps it has taken, one of the most prominent is the FOCUS Speaker Series. FOCUS has brought some of the most prominent anti-racist speakers – including, to name just a few, Tracy K. Smith, Imani Perry, and Sarah Broom – to campus.
But alongside this flagship effort to bolster Princeton’s anti-racist education are dozens of behind-the-scenes changes designed to ensure that every no aspect of University life remains untouched.
At every FOCUS event, attendees are supplied with a free copy of the headliner’s book. It occurred to Manisha Chotalia, an office assistant in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, that the values of diversity and equity should be extended to the books offered to attendees as well as the authors who wrote them.
On Tuesday, January 11, 2022, ODUS, in conjunction with the Department of African American Studies (AAS) and the Council for the Humanities, hosted the first FOCUS Speaker Series event of the new year. The event featured author and journalist Sarah M. Broom in conversation with Professor Imani Perry of the AAS Department. This unique installment in the FOCUS Series took place in the Chancellor Green Rotunda with a limited in-person audience, and was broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube.
Sarah Broom is the author of the bestselling memoir The Yellow House, which received the National Book Award and was named one of the New York Times 10 best books of 2019. Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a faculty associate with the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Jazz Studies. She has written six books, including Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, which won the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction.
In the late afternoon of Tuesday, December 7th, students filed into the drawing room of Campus Club. The club’s drawing room was packed, the rows of folding chairs already full as people clustered at the back of the room and angled themselves so they could see.
The crowd – mostly composed of students, but which also included many other members of the Princeton community – was there for the first in-person event in ODUS’ FOCUS Lecture Series. After months of bringing fruitful discussions about race, identity, privilege, and progress to Princeton over Zoom, the FOCUS Lecture Series was finally brought to campus. The event featured Jordan Salama ’19, an author and journalist who has written for publications including The New York Times and National Geographic, in conversation with Professor Christina Lee of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Joe Rolón, Butler College Director of Student Life, provided a welcome on behalf of the Latino Princetonians, an Employee Resource Group sponsored by Princeton’s Office of Human Resources.