Department Detectives

This project investigates the connections that five departments (Library Archives, SPIA, GEO, EEB, and MAE) have to Indigenous communities.

Created by Jessica Bookholdt '24, Maxfield Evers '25, Kat McLaughlin '25, Aliha Mughal '23, and Eric Sklanka '23

Advised by Nuclear Princeton Researchers Lillian Fitzgerald '25 and Blue Carlsson '25

A Day in the Life of A Student Curious about Their Impact

Well shoot, it’s Wednesday. You have all four of your classes today, from 9:00 straight through 4:30 (luckily no night class). You roll out of bed at 8:00 and start to get ready. As you look at yourself in the mirror and force your tired self to brush your teeth, you think of the day ahead of you: MAE precept at 9:00, EEB lecture at 11:00, then SPIA at 1:00, and finally GEO from 3:00 to 4:30. But you’re not even free after class, your SPIA project is due next week and you haven’t even started yet. So, besides class and time for meals, you’ll be spending all day in ‘Stone looking through the stacks for sources.


You question yourself as you start your walk to McDonnell, “Is State Night ever worth it? Why do they have to do it on a Tuesday?” You assure yourself that it was worth it and pick up the pace so you’re not late. When you get there, your preceptor is looking particularly excited.

“Today,” he says, “we are actually going to do something relevant to my research!” 

     The class shudders in fear, this is about to be the hardest thing ever. It doesn’t immediately go over your head, but after ten short minutes it definitely starts to. Conical objects exiting and entering the atmosphere – literal rocket science – is pretty difficult as it turns out. As the zoning out continues, the precept starts to look absurd. You question what the point of this stuff even is in the first place. Does he even know what it’s for?


When you ask him after class, it turns out that he really doesn’t know too much about it at all.

“Well I know that my research is some type of missile entry stuff, the government wants to see how to develop larger missiles with flatter heads to fit bigger payloads. I don’t really know that much besides that.”

Wait, this crap is for WEAPONS? How are they so nonchalant about this? You ask him if he knows where or if the missiles will be used. He has no clue. Then you start thinking about how they’re building a whole new complex for Engineering and Applied Sciences. The departments helping make weapons, with lots of funding from the government already, needs a new space?


You leave precept with just enough time to get a coffee at campus club. The line is long and it might make you late for EEB, but it’s not like you were going to participate anyway so it’s no big deal. Rolling in with your iced dirty chai (nice pick by the way, that’s my favorite drink), the class is sitting through a promo from a different professor about some sort of research trip.

“The Amazon is an amazing place, relatively untouched, with such beautiful native flora and fauna for you to study with us! It’s an amazing adventure! And hey, it’s also amazing preparation for a senior thesis for all you EEB concentrators. I’ll be around at the end of your lecture if you are interested.”

You are so interested. An all-expenses-paid trip to the amazon? The ludicrous wealth of this university never seems to surprise you. As the real lecture starts, you pull up the program website. Enthralled by what you see, you explore the website and do some googling for the rest of class and walk up to the program head to ask some questions.

You start with a pretty basic one, “Will we be all alone in the rainforest?”

“Yes, it is a bit scary but this part of the Amazon is uninhabited.”

From your googling, you know that’s not true. There’s an indigenous group living in the very same area of the Amazon. Now that you think about it, they weren’t included on the website either. Weird…


Next up is your SPIA lecture on WWII. The professor starts the class with the trailer for the new movie Oppenheimer. You got a picture of Matt Damon from the bathroom of East Pyne when they filmed on campus last year so you’re pretty excited for that one. As the lecture progresses, you learn about the secrecy of the Manhattan Project: fake towns, codenames, and more were used to keep this thing from getting out. You think back to your EEB lecture and wonder if there were people living out there in the desert too. It never comes up in the lecture, but it was still pretty interesting.


Last class of the day before you lock yourself on the C-floor is Geosciences. You walk through the halls of Guyot Hall and admire how such an old building is still around. You’re early to your classroom to learn about thawing soil in Siberia, so you wait outside as the previous class finishes. Inside is a presentation on something called the “Red Lodge Project”. Lots of black and white photos are shown in the slideshow, until one catches your eye. A Native man in full regalia atop a horse. The class doesn’t really seem to acknowledge it before they pack up and leave, but the image is stuck in your head. When your class starts, you aren’t really feeling another discussion on prehistoric Siberia (although usually this is actually your favorite class, the professor is an amazing lecturer), so you decide to do a little digging on the Red Lodge Project. You find one sentence on how the research is on Crow Nation land, but no mention of correspondence between them and Princeton, or really any sort of acknowledgement. All it says is that’s where they stayed when they were digging up fossils. Is that stealing?


Before you can answer that question, class ends and you head to Firestone. Your SPIA project is all about the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, and what you start to find isn’t great. Turns out the Manhattan Project was even kept secret from people living nearby. Now, there is a group of people called “downwinders”, who were affected by radiation from the weapons testing. What’s even worse is that the downwinders are excluded from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act which is meant to give compensation to these types of victims. You wonder if there were people living in Los Alamos, NM before the government moved in. You look on the archives website and there appears to be an Indigenous History liaison, so you head to her office and ask. She helps you find what you’re looking for and walks you over to the appropriate section. On your way, she points out a space that used to be an affinity space for Native students in the 70s, “Of course,” she says, “there isn’t a permanent affinity space for Native students anymore.” So we build a School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, disciplines who already have several buildings for themselves, but can’t give a single room anywhere on campus for Native students? None of this makes any sense anymore, it’s like MAE precept all over again.


You read for the rest of the night, the whole time thinking to yourself:

“How does nobody have any clue how their research is impacting people?”


Forgotten Connections: How Princeton Needs to Acknowledge Native History

The goal of the above “day in the life” is to show how so much of what goes on here is connected to Native students or communities, often without our knowledge as students. Princeton needs to build a better culture of awareness around the impact of its research. Our team looked into the culture of different departments or institutions on campus and asked about how their work impacted Native students or communities. Most of the time, there was no departmental acknowledgement of their impact at all. 


Explore Individual Departments Below: