After four long months of winter, this month brings with it a number of things: blooming flowers, the emergence of Princeton's bats from their hibernation and days of much needed rain. This weekend, however, marks the coming of a new storm, as Princeton Preview showers campus with plenty of fresh-faced high school seniors looking to see if our university is the best fit for them.
As exciting as all of this can be, for both them and the Princeton community at large, one of my fears with the Class of 2012 is the possibility of them falling into the same pattern that I have witnessed in my class, as well as among the freshmen.
In my experience here so far, particularly among several campus groups with which I have interacted, I've seen a real passion for organizations like the Black Men's Awareness Group (BMAG), Black Arts Company: Drama and the Black Student Union (BSU). Since I can only speak for these groups, I want to avoid making generalized statements about the broader Princeton community. But the amount of dedication that I've witnessed among members of the classes of 2007, 2008 and 2009 showed me the drive and determination that these students had in keeping these groups afloat and thriving here on campus.
As I look at my class, the Class of 2010, I see only a few who have stepped up in a very large capacity to the helms of groups like BSU and AKWAABA. Those who have stepped up devote much time and energy to organizing events, colloquia and other enriching activities. Sadly, in addition to this, I also see groups like BMAG and the Princeton Caribbean Connection, whose prime leadership has remained in the hands of the same people for multiple years. This reflects a problem that probably manifests itself in many organizations across campus: Senior members of student groups have trouble passing on the torch to younger members, mainly because of a lack of systemized mentoring to properly prepare the underclassmen.
I recently discussed this pervasive phenomenon among underclassmen with a junior who is a leader of one of the groups mentioned above: There is a general lack of enthusiasm and motivation to take an active role in student groups. This can range from an unwillingness to spearhead a committee to plan a new event, to not feeling up to attending a dinner talk with a professor, even if a peer has diligently tried to get you to attend.
I have been guilty of both of these tendencies - the latter just this past Tuesday - and I can attribute my lack of involvement to one thing: comfort. Many members of the freshman and sophomore classes (myself included) are of the mindset that if we don't do it, someone in the upper classes eventually will. What makes this phenomenon so funny to me is that I witnessed the same thing happen in my high school, in which many once-thriving organizations came to a sputtering halt and met their demise in the hands of my graduating class. This makes me think: Did I bring this mentality here to Princeton? In many ways, I did, but I find time and again that I am not alone.
Since many of us are hosting pre-frosh this weekend, I would like to ask what type of message we hope to send to the incoming freshman class. The problem that we face in my organizations is two-fold. First, there is not an established method of preparing younger group members to be utilized by senior leaders, which leads to unnecessary confusion when the time comes to pass the torch. In addition to this, freshmen and sophomores, who are not burdened with independent work, situate themselves comfortably within organizations, often just showing up for the most popular events of the year. But if we do not step up and assume responsibility for the groups that I mentioned, or others that may face the same problems, what will happen?
As the Class of 2008 makes its way out and the juniors look toward what will be the toughest year of their Princeton career, I implore my class and the current freshmen to step up in a big way. I would hate for the Class of 2012 to miss out on the wonderful opportunities that we have enjoyed thanks to the work of dedicated upperclassmen, but it is up to all of us to decide how much these cultural and organizational outlets really matter to us.
Walter Griffin is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at email@example.com.