The University, I’m sure, welcomes these prospective students with open arms. Events geared to show prefrosh “this side” of Princeton, including lectures by faculty members, dance and musical performances, theatrical productions and dance parties, are all put on with the hope of luring these students away from the other college choices they have.
Over the past two years, however, the sun that dominated the sky couldn’t overcome the dark clouds gathering in the midst of campus. I refer specifically to the act of lewdness and the sexual assault that took place last weekend, which coincidentally occurred on the one-year anniversary of the melee that broke out at Wilson College’s BlackBox.
The student community, at least, has taken issue with a number of problems connected to these incidents. A non-exhaustive list would include the unrestricted access to campus, the response of Public Safety and the knowledge that our well-being may not be a given. I take greatest exception, however, to the administration’s response to these incidents.
Most of the information we receive comes through University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96, who holds a most undesirable position that I, at least, would never take. But instead of focusing on Cliatt the person, I would much rather tackle the image she has been charged with upholding.
In response to last year’s incident at BlackBox, The Daily Princetonian quoted her as saying, “We believe this is an isolated incident.” As someone who was on the receiving end of that assault, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of betrayal. While this may not have been the intent, it felt as if the University was saying, in other words, “Incidents like these aren’t supposed to happen here — and under normal circumstances, they don’t.”
If we fast-forward to last weekend, we witness the University getting another jolt of reality as it attempts to put on its best face. With student reports of lewdness and harassment, I found two things striking: the administration’s response, as well as the dialogue sparked by the incidents among the student body.
The ‘Prince’ quoted Cliatt as follows: “It’s critical for students to be aware of their surroundings and really avoid being alone on campus in the early morning hours.” While the sentiment was well received, the chances that students will cease trekking alone are slim to none. The response of some students, who felt as if their protection wasn’t guaranteed by Public Safety’s presence, brought to mind the same sense of betrayal I felt a year ago.
The saddest part was when I realized that some people actually believe that this campus is isolated from the reality of the outside world. It’s only when incidents like this happen that students or alumni, in letters or online comments, make comparisons between Princeton and New Haven, Conn., or any other crime-prone area housing an elite university. That only reflects how much we’ve bought into the notion of the Orange Bubble, with the town revolving around us, instead of realizing that our campus is a part of the town.
One fascinating outcome of this was how quickly — at least in online comments to these news stories — the assaults of last and this year became racialized. Granted, the assailants were black and Latino, respectively. Yet in light of this, our response perpetuated the assaults as outside the norm, making this week’s increased Public Safety presence seem like a temporary remedy. But whether we realize it or not, the mere presence of local non-whites is not an obstruction of the norm; if anything, it should be a wake-up call for us to change the way we view this community.
In light of the Preview weekends of these past two years, it’s imperative that we — both students and administration — get a grip on reality. I’m not proposing that we become overly paranoid. The generally carefree attitude we have, however, is just as dangerous, if not more. The best solution is a middle ground, one in which we situate ourselves in the realm of alertness and awareness.
So as the weather gods bless us once again with warm and gorgeous days, let us, as a community, try not to let all that sun blind us to where we really are. We’d do best to show the prospective students and ourselves not just this side, but all of Princeton.
Walter Keith Griffin is a religion major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.