Wearing white face masks and black clothing, sitting cross-legged in a semicircle on the ground outside Frist Campus Center, about a dozen student members of Praxis Axis sat quietly in protest on Thursday at noon.
The students played a recording of raised voices against classism, racism, sexism, heteronormativism and administrative response to sexual assault and mental health issues played on repeat.
On its publicized “Day of Disruption,” the group published the Praxis Axis Press, a four-page newsletter, in which they relayed their manifesto, claiming to speak as a “collective of queer people, trans people, people of color and people of faith coming together for a simple purpose: to disrupt.”
The group displaced Daily Princetonian newspapers in at least two distribution boxes, replacing them with the Praxis Axis Press. The group urged students to go to its website and read more about its demands and reasons for disruption.
Among other things, Praxis Axis called on administrators to issue a direct policy response “to the concerns that have been raised by students about mental health policies, forced withdrawal and requirements for readmission,” to “divest from long positions in equity securities that major stakeholders in the University deem harmful or oppressive” and to “develop a student-led general assembly,” according to a separate list of demands.
One organizing member of Praxis Axis did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Another member hung up the phone after a reporter identified herself.
The list of demands is similar to Dartmouth’s “Freedom Budget,” a more extensive list of demands that was crafted by Dartmouth students earlier this month. The Dartmouth students presented their demands to the administration after staging an overnight sit-in at the office of the president of Dartmouth.
The Praxis Axis group also started a Facebook page called Tiger Microaggressions which documents overheard statements that they consider ignorant or disrespectful.
“The paper cuts of oppression. So small but slice so deep,” the page’s description reads.
Katie Horvath ’15 read the publication and its “Demands for Princeton University,” a handout offered at the sit-in which detailed ten changes the group demanded from administrators.
“I took a mask and sat with them while the recording played, and the recording dealt a lot with the problematic issues on this campus and the fact that they only tend to be addressed from the top down,” she said.
Horvath said she appreciates that Praxis Axis represents a lot of different and separate issues that minorities and oppressed groups deal with.
“I found it really compelling that all of these issues are related,” Horvath said. “People should be coalition-building and joining hands around these things because we’re a lot stronger when we work together.”
Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne witnessed the sit-in take place, as well, and he explained that students have this right to speech as detailed in the “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” student handbook.
“Our job is to staff protests or demonstrations that are sponsored by either on-campus people or people off-campus, and our role is to be a presence and answer questions if people have questions about relevant University policy,” Dunne said. “It’s really as much for people communicating the message as for people receiving the message.”
Dunne also said he doesn’t think there is anything notably unique about this protest as compared to others.
“I think that visually, there’s some differences,” Dunne said. “This is the first event I’ve been to where people have had masks on, but there’s really nothing that jumps out as somehow remarkably different from the other activities that have taken place.”
Passersby took note of the protests even when they had not planned to be there.
“I was walking by and I just read the newspaper they published,” Sandra Knuth ’14 said. “I think it’s really cool. I think it will probably, hopefully, get them a lot more attention. I’m sure even just sitting here in all these masks, people are probably curious and will stop and hopefully listen.”
Knuth said this is a cause she feels like she can get behind but isn’t sure whether or not she actually will.
“I would be interested in joining but I might feel out of place because I don’t feel that I necessarily belong to the group of people that they’re trying to represent,” Knuth said.
Summer Hanson ’16 saw the sit-in and also thinks she might be interested in getting involved.
“It’s an interesting method, I wouldn’t have guessed it,” Hanson said. “I think seeing them sitting there like that is kind of an image of solidarity to me and I hope a lot of people come to see it.”
Citing recent discourse about the administration’s failure to properly address sexual assault and mental health issues, Hanson said, “To be honest, I think that this is something the administration might need. I think if they take action on this, it will shine well on them.”