Immediately after Princeton students voted to direct their student government to sign on to the Princeton Justice Project's amicus brief, President Tilghman said that she opposed USG involvement, and that the USG should instead be focusing on "student government issues."
Does Tilghman believe this? Would she, who frequently urges Princeton students toward civic engagement, prefer that the USG not have taken action on behalf of Princeton's LGBT students?
Perhaps she was misquoted. Or maybe she misspoke. After all, her comments did come on the heels of a lengthy international trip. If this is the case, then we can surely forgive her this mistake.
Sad to say, it seems that she will not be asking for forgiveness, and that she believes what she said. Instead of replying to Leslie-Bernard Joseph '06's Dec. 13 open letter in the Prince, or to one I sent her personally a few days before that, for a month she has stood silently behind her remarks.
Given the lack of outreach by the administration to the USG on issues that Tilghman presumably would consider student government issues — grade deflation and four-year residential colleges, to name two — we are forced to conclude that she would rather the USG plan study breaks than act on the outrage that we all must feel for Princeton's LGBT students, a class currently discriminated against by New Jersey state law.
This is a truly bizarre shift. With the implicit and explicit support of Nassau Hall, Joseph's term as USG President has been characterized by an ambitious expansion of activities, many of which are much more tenuously related to student life than is activism related to Lewis v. Harris. Tilghman had no discouraging words when the USG spearheaded relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina; nor did she oppose its supporting role in last year's fundraiser for genocide victims in a far-flung African nation. The University funded the logistical support for the first-ever Princeton In the Nation's Service month, which pointedly took students off campus to engage the world outside of Princeton. As Joseph broadened the scope of the USG's ambition, he met no public resistance from Tilghman.
And so it would seem that the USG crossed a line with Tilghman on the gay marriage referendum: fundraisers for hurricane victims and genocide refugees are OK, walk-a-thons for underprivileged schoolchildren are great, but an untidy battle over civil rights for Princeton students is unacceptable.
This view represents a triumph of Princetonian kitsch, of which President Tilghman is the chief promoter. Hers is a view that says, if you wouldn't put it in the view book, it shouldn't happen. Perspectives like hers are characterized by, as Milan Kundera wrote, "the absolute denial of s—-." When the emotional and messy debate on gay marriage, tangential to issues of love, sex, religion and politics, came knocking at Old Nassau, she was not only interested in sidestepping in the dialogue, she was upset enough to condemn the USG for even touching the issue.
Why, President Tilghman, did Princeton students take the s—- of their lives to their student government? For the same reason that you take each and every opportunity to fight for the equal place of women scientists in academia: discrimination is an awful thing to have to live with. Your public skewering of Larry Summers smacked of opportunism, but you had our blessing because we believe in your fight. We know that in the long march for social justice, you bring your case to the people whenever and wherever you can. Like you, we are all trying to get to the mountaintop. What we need from you is a hand up, not a put down. Thomas Bohnett is a Wilson School major from Princeton Junction. He can be reached at email@example.com.