When deciding which academic issue at Princeton requires the most adjustment, some people point to grade deflation, others to cumbersome workloads and more still to the novelty of being among such talented peers. But there is an adjustment still more vexing, a problem much more pressing. In fact, I daresay this problem is the toughest I’ve yet to face in my 19 years:
The lecture hall desks at Princeton are too small.
There are very few times in my life when I feel like a giant: when I hold mini bottles of hotel amenities, while looking down at a street from a high rise building, when avoiding decapitation by Whitman dining hall salad bar sneeze guards. But it is when taking exams on the tiny lecture desks that I truly feel monstrous. Somewhere, sometime ago, the powers that be at Princeton decided that lecture hall desks should be roughly smaller than an A4 piece of paper. Perhaps the builders hoped to cut material costs or perhaps presenting students with a daily struggle over which desk items to prioritize was deemed conducive to intellectual stimulation. I personally like to believe it was part of a sadistic plan to weed out the strong from the weak.
The miniature desk mocks any student hoping to balance more than a notebook on its pint-sized platform. For the brave laptop user in McCosh 50, one spirited tap on the unsupported area of the keyboard can tip the scale. Desks that fold up from the armrests of the chair fare no better. Designed perhaps to fit our smaller brethren of yesteryear, fold-out options force many tall students to take notes on their laps lest they wish to write on the slant created by a desk propped up by too-high knees. Even those of us small enough to use the fold-out desks are often faced with a teeter-totter desk hinge perhaps knocked off kilter from the sheer pressure of someone’s exuberant note taking the class before.
Yes, the desks can be a struggle, particularly as we head into exam period.
Midterms week, I was caught unaware. Five minutes before the exam, I arrived, pencils sharpened, hair clipped back, brain crammed. Surveying the desks, I picked one not too close to the front to feel as if I were in a bottomless pit of lecture hall, not too close to the door to be tempted to run at the first sight of an unsolvable question. In short, a perfect desk. I began to take out my exam materials which soon filled up the pint-sized desk. No worries, thought I, I’ll simply use the empty desk to one side to hold my calculator. But as the lecture hall filled, I realized the gravity of the situation. With neighboring elbows to contend with, my calculator and eraser would have to find other homes during the exam. And so, with two exam booklets, one exam packet, one calculator, a pencil and an eraser balanced precariously on my desk I played an infuriating game of shuffle for the 80-minute exam period. Papers were clenched in teeth as I worked on a separate sheet. The calculator fell to the floor. The pencil rolled away. I emerged, shaken, worse for wear, beaten by the fun-sized fury of the lecture hall desk.
Surely, replacing meager lecture hall desks with plus-sized alternatives would be cost-prohibitive. Surely, the irritation is not large enough to warrant a full scale reengineering. Surely, Shirley has bigger problems to deal with.
But as we head into exams, the small lecture desks can be as distracting as the pen-clickers, the foot-tappers and the nose-snifflers among us. Only, unlike those distractions that we have little control over, any exam takers willing to mount an aggressive offense in seat selection will find themselves with room to spare. I’ve spent the last two months honing my seat selection tactics to best maximize space during exams and now I share them with you dear students. First, sit in one of the aisle seats to cut aggressive neighbor elbow knocks in half. Next, should anyone try to sit in the other adjacent seat immediately contract a hacking, spitting, deadly contagious cough. With summer break on the horizon no one wants to risk getting sick. And finally, use the blissfully empty seat next to you to store what the pitiful desk cannot.
Rebecca Kreutter is a freshman from Singapore. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/05/04/30889/