Written by
Sabrina Fay ’22, Pace Center Student Correspondent
Dec. 1, 2020

The work of racial justice is long and unceasing; it requires constant re-appraisals, learning, and unlearning, but it is well worth the effort. This was the sentiment shared by three panelists at the Pace Council for Civic Values (PCCV) recent Dessert and Dialogue conversation on racial injustice. 

Joshua Guild, associate professor of history and African American studies, Nancy Chan, who manages strategy and evaluation for the Chan Zuckerberg Justice & Opportunity Initiative, and Princeton University senior Ashley Hodges shared their perspectives on the work of social justice, the role of Princetonians within that work, and where they see it going in the future, all with an audience of students and council members. Together, they each emphasized how glad they are to be a part of the positive changes that institutions and the country are going through. 

“Make sure you're bringing folks to the table,” Hodges advised as she reflected on her own experience as a Princeton student. “At this point I've realized the amount of privilege it is that I go to Princeton...people think it must mean something to have gotten here, even though it may not necessarily be true.” 

She emphasized that graduating from Princeton does not make anyone better than anyone else, but the resources and prestige of being associated with this institution can certainly be used for good. This was a point echoed by Associate Professor Guild, who said, “As Princetonians, be the voice in the room. You have an opportunity to intervene, shift the conversation, or include a perspective that isn't included.”

All the panelists spoke on the importance of working towards racial justice however you can and making space for the perspectives of those most affected, but also brought up the necessity of self-care and emotional wellbeing. 

“The work of confronting people is emotionally draining, and this is the time for self-preservation and care,” Hodges brought up. “If you're emotionally drained, you're not going to be able to participate as a citizen.” Chan and Guild agreed with this point, and Chan iterated the importance of having difficult conversations with people you feel need to be educated, but also knowing when to step back and care for yourself. 

The phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup” comes to mind, and is one these panelists would likely agree with. Chan also commented on how utterly inundated many people are with information via social media in the current moment, and the imperative task of taking the time to think through, fact check, and process information before putting it to use. 

“Misinformation spreads the fastest,” Chan said. “Any time with any social media it's just about taking that pause, that breath, to think about it before sharing or reposting or tweeting.” By taking that time, you are able to be a more effective agent for change and a mindful member of your communities, she said.

The dialogue overall acted as a call to action, both for others and for oneself. Associate Professor Guild encouraged students to look for organizers in their community and join efforts already occurring, building on whatever foundations for racial justice already exist. The work of Guild, Chan, and Hodges speaks to the importance of racial justice advocacy and of how Princetonians may get involved, even from home or from a virtual setting. 

“It's about having solidarity and conversations,” Chan recapitulated at the end of the dialogue, and the conversation she and the other panelists had with PCCV and community members through this event is one that will hopefully keep happening through their work ongoing, and produce even more solidarity and positive impact.

PCCV is a Pace Center student board focused on providing inclusive and equitable opportunities for civic engagement amongst Princeton undergraduate and graduate students. Though virtual this semester, PCCV has sought to continue to bring opportunities for discussion and engagement to the larger Princeton community. The Dessert and Dialogue series allows for individuals working with civic engagement to speak with students, share their work, and answer questions. Prior topics have included sustainability and institutional accountability, faith and values, and political engagement.