Based on the thousands of undergraduates who I’ve met over the past three years, there’s not a single one of us that can’t hack it academically at Princeton. Everyone who’s admitted has it in them to work hard enough and well enough to earn a degree. The admission office isn’t in the business of letting in students who lack the requisite smarts.
Imagine, for a moment, what Princeton would look like without athletics or underrepresented groups. Take sports: Games and competitions allow for a physical representation of the spirit of an institution. That’s why people attend sporting events; it’s a way to publically demonstrate one’s support of and belief in an otherwise ethereal concept like Princeton. Athletes are the engines for this spirit, playing not for themselves but for the honor and prestige of their alma mater. Without competitions, we would have no rallying point and little around which to build a strong sense of community.
Some might say Princeton sporting events don’t generate the attendance or excitement that make them worthwhile. I would remind them that many of our teams — such as squash, cross country and field hockey — consistently rank among the best in the country. Furthermore, whenever some of our “big sports” teams, like soccer or basketball, make national tournaments, the outpour of student and alumni support is unparalleled. Anyone else remember the game against Kentucky two years ago?
Games aside, athletes offer an interesting change of pace. In as high-achieving an environment as Princeton, it’s nice to have individuals whose focus isn’t solely on academics. They serve as a reminder that there are many kinds of talents and intelligences that can’t be reflected by a letter or a number, a concept that leads to a genuinely more laid-back — and balanced — approach to things.
And a Princeton without minority students? Forget about it. There’s a reason that Princeton began coeducation and ended its long history of white exclusivity. Minority students bring more than politically correct brochure pictures. Learning, understanding and growth are hallmarks of a diverse community. Creativity and discovery are fueled by the collision of perspectives; it is worthwhile to consider background in college admission for this very reason.
Naturally — as affirmative action opponents everywhere claim — two could have remarkably similar backgrounds but different skin colors. Choosing one over the other doesn’t further the goals of diversity and is just plain unfair, right? Not so. Anyone who thinks that two people can have the exact same life experience in America with two different skin colors is sadly mistaken. For better or for worse, race plays a major role in our perceptions of others, all other things held equal. You really can’t have two individuals of different skin colors who’ve had identical journeys through life.
And the admission office knows this. Princeton could just take the 1,300-plus applicants from the ever-growing pool with SAT scores of 2400 and 4.8 GPAs, but we don’t. If we did, we’d lose an incredible amount of the variety that characterizes our student body. We don’t just want the traditional cookie-cutter all-star applicants whose entire existence revolved around gaining admission to a “good school.” We want Princetonians. A college education is about so much more than “academic achievement” in the high school sense.
So the next time you look at someone and think: “They only got in for x, y, z,” think about what that x, y, z could really mean. If x is a being a first-generation Latina whose the first in her family to go to a four-year college, y is having dedicated hours and days of her time on the soccer field and z is having the courage to really try to realize her academic potential even though her grades say she doesn’t have what it takes to hack it at Princeton, you might reconsider what really qualifies someone to don the orange and black.
Nathan Mathabane is a geosciences major from Portland, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/26/31261/