Princeton has one of the oldest, strongest and most connected alumni networks of the world’s higher education institutions, a pleasant reality that we are reminded of every year when we place the second largest annual beer order in the US for our Reunions celebrations. From the hectic and joyous party in June to a lifetime of loyalty and belonging, the status of a Princeton Tiger is a privilege and point of pride that we are endowed with for life. Yet recent circumstances beg the question: is it really a status for life?
We have an array of famous alumni to be proud of, from Schmidt to Nash, Fitzgerald to the First Lady. Despite this, not every graduate of Princeton is expected to make headlines and join the ranks of such figures. Many of us will go out into the world, playing our part whilst being proud of where we came from, and the University community may never consider us in depth again.
However, there is one prominent possibility for our future status as a Princetonian, one even worse than being forgotten. This alternative outcome is outright rejection. Some alumni are utterly repudiated by this community, or at least by a vocal student body.
These spurred alumni may hold views or act in ways that run contrary to present popular opinion on campus. In a country with a constitutional amendment uniquely dedicated to maintaining freedom of expression and speech, it does not seem unlikely that a wide spectrum of views would develop and that Princeton would produce thinkers who fall on both ends of it. Yet it appears that when one of our own falls out of line with the majority consensus, we enthusiastically denounce them.
One notable example comes from a recent article published in the Tab, “Ted Cruz ’92 is officially the worst Princeton alum of all time.” Now, if the results of the survey presented in the article are any indication, the majority of readers undoubtedly read that title with a certain degree of agreement. The fact that some may not agree, and that the article falsely portrays Princeton to have a homogenous collective viewpoint, is an important point that I will not get into here. Rather, I question the motivation behind and harm in publiclyand enthusiastically denouncing a Princeton alumnus.
I am not a particular supporter of Cruz, or either of Republicans or Democrats. In fact, as a non-citizen, I’m far removed. But as a Princetonian, I see harm in the habit of shaming any alumni we are not proud of. In the face of being associated with controversial views, and accepting that we are a part of a community that produces a diversity of alumni, we simply push out those whom we disagree with, separating them from the University and thus dissociate ourselves from them.
It is weak to define Princetonians as only those who have views that coincide with the popular views of the campus at the time. We cannot have thousands of graduating students and then simply pick and choose in hindsight the ones whom we consider to be “true Tigers,” once we see how they turn out. We shy away from admitting that a person with Cruz’s views came through our University, without anyone or any factor having persuaded him out of the views that we deem unacceptable.
Of course, I am not suggesting that the student body ought to support or encourage Cruz’s views. Rather, it is not a solution to simply censure the views of alums, to try and prune the unwanted branches of our alumni network. This avoids the reality of who we are as a university, and nothing we say will deny the fact that Cruz, and other controversial alumni, are Tigers as much as you and me. In focusing on censorship, we ignore a call to action.
As an intellectual community, we should take responsibility for having cultivated, or at least having fostered, such views. From there, we should be looking inwards, at the students and faculty who are currently at Princeton. If contentious views are found, the kind of views for which we would publicly denounce an alumnus or alumna, then we should seek to persuade and propagate the perspectives that we would be proud to have presented by our alumni, through campus discussion and debate. We are responsible, as a community, for all of the words and actions of Princetonians; if we see a point of disagreement, we must act to resolve it now rather than waiting until it is too late and then making fun of it.
Of course, not everyone maintains the views they have in college throughout the rest of their lives. Cruz may have been a different man at Princeton. To this I would suggest that the quality of campus discussion, the transparency and logic of the arguments that circulate this campus should be such that we are enlightened when we leave, and thus we will not fall into fields of rhetoric and politics that are apparently so detestable to students today.
If you disagree with Cruz’s politics, or with the views and actions of any alumnus, don’t take the easy route of merely condemning them and excluding them from our consideration of the notion of a "Princetonian." Instead, consider whether or not we are allowing or propagating such views now on campus, and make your contribution to campus discussion to fix it. 450 people down-voted Cruz in the Tab’s survey, and doubtlessly a few up-voted him too. It is debate between these groups and any similar opposition that will ensure that we can be proud of all our alumni into the future.
Samuel Parsons is a freshman from Wangaratta, Australia. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.