Racial Diversity

Photo: Denise Applewhite

Through its numerous multicultural student organizations, alumni associations and its institutional equity and diversity efforts in the Office of the Provost, among other endeavors, Princeton continues to cultivate an ethos of diversity and excellence in the 21st century. Princeton's institutional commitment to diversity is reflected in its need-blind admission and financial aid policies, which have set new standards across the nation and brought the most diverse classes in Princeton's history to campus.

Actively seeking diversity is a modern phenomenon. The traditional student body was resolutely male and predominantly white for more than two centuries — with a few exceptions, such as Jacob Wooley, a Delaware Indian and member of the Class of 1762; John Chavis, Class of 1795, a freedman who was the first African American to matriculate at Princeton; and Hiroichi Orita, Class of 1876, who is believed to be the first Asian student to graduate from the University.

The 20th century was a watershed in the history of minorities at Princeton, particularly for African Americans. In the midst of World War II, Princeton, in concert with the federal government, administered the United States Navy's V-12 program, which afforded the admittance of four African American students: John Leroy Howard, James Everett Ward, Arthur Jewell Wilson Jr. and Melvin Murchison Jr. With the exception of Murchison, they earned undergraduate degrees from Princeton in 1947.

Martin Luther King Jr. (center) with Assistant Dean of the Chapel Carl Reimers (left) and the chapel deacons on the steps of Chancellor Green in 1960.
Martin Luther King Jr. (center) with Assistant Dean of the Chapel Carl Reimers (left) and the chapel deacons on the steps of Chancellor Green in 1960. Photo courtesy of Princeton University Archives  
In the 1960s, the University launched concerted efforts to attract African Americans. In 1964 the hiring of Carl A. Fields signaled a turning point in the domain of higher education. Fields, who served as the assistant director of student aid and then as assistant dean of the college, was the first African American to receive an upper-level administrative appointment at a predominantly white university in the United States. Alongside Princeton's then-president, Robert Goheen, Fields is noted as an institution builder and key figure in ushering in a more racially and culturally diverse student population, which included African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Indians and Asians. As a symbol of its commitment to inclusiveness and diversity, Princeton founded the Third World Center in 1971 and renamed it the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding in 2002. To date, the Fields Center continues its mission and remains an important institution in the lives of Princeton students, faculty and staff members.