For the past few years of my undergraduate experience, I have returned from summer vacation bombarded with statistics on how great Princeton is. As expected, the school is leading the way in the mostly uncharted territory of grade deflation. So what if U.S. News & World Report no longer acknowledges our greatness? Forbes Magazine gladly restored our rightful position as No. 1. And Financial Aid continues to live up to its name every year as the percentage of students who rely on the department's benevolence continues to increase.
One statistic that smacks of irony time and again, however, is the percentage of students from minority backgrounds, toted under the banner of "diversity." From the moment we set foot on campus, that word is drilled into our heads as if it's a new social order to which we must grow accustomed. Considering Princeton's relative lateness to the game of welcoming non-white students, maybe these discussions do serve a needed purpose.
The University recently rolled out its numbers on the Class of 2012, of which 471 freshmen - 37.9 percent of the class - are from "minority backgrounds." (Of course, the University won't point out that this class is also 61.1 percent white.) It proudly points to the 56 percent of the class that is on some form of financial aid, a slight increase over the Class of 2011. On the flip side, 44 percent of the students do not receive aid, meaning many are part of the privileged few who can afford Princeton's lofty tuition.
Despite this, the University is elated that it continues to strive toward having a multicultural student body, which it more than happily presents in its admissions brochures. Not surprisingly, a disproportionate number of students in these booklets are from a minority background.
Once we are enrolled as full-time students, the University attempts to introduce us to a range of academic experiences through distribution requirements, the great number of departments from which to choose for majors and certificates, and the vast opportunities that await graduating seniors. Princeton's best efforts don't stand a chance, however, against the social and competitive culture that dominates this place.
When I first set foot on campus as a naive freshman, I did everything in my power not to compromise who I was. I still wore the baggy urban gear that defined my high school experience. I scoffed at the notion of Lawnparties, choosing to work in the dining hall instead as my outright rebellion. As I look into my closet now, however, I laugh at how I've gone, in many ways, from pimp to Polo. The disgustingly pastel striped shirt that I wore with my Rainbow flip-flops to see Lupe Fiasco would have made freshman me gasp with horror. Even going from saying that I would never join an eating club to proudly displaying my membership on my Facebook page shows how easy it is to get wrapped up in that all-too-familiar Princeton experience. We may enroll from ethnically diverse backgrounds, but Princeton is ultimately a homogenizing experience, depriving us of true diversity.
And so I have found ways of balancing this conformity by hanging out with people like me. I bought into the diversity pep talks of the University and went out of my way to avoid black people during the first part of my freshman year. It wasn't long, however, before I fell in with them, and that has become one of my more permanent social circles. This experience isn't exclusive to black people, though. People on the football team are just as likely to hang out with each other as are people who belong to the same eating club, or people who are Jewish, or people who come from a wealthy background or (believe it or not) people who are white.
In the long run, my presence on campus that embodies "diversity" ends up being as empty as the University's statistics on its progress. Even if the student body enters the University as a diverse group, the reality of it all is that Princeton homogenizes the social practices of its members, many of whom end up leaving, diploma and club membership in hand, as bona fide investment bankers.
Before the University takes pride in the diverse students it brings in, it needs to work harder to ensure that we leave with the same diversity of perspective that we brought to campus in the first place. If not, then they can save those self-congratulatory statistics for someone who really cares.
Keith Griffin is a religion major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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