On a campus like Princeton’s, which teems with tranquility, socioeconomic insulation, and seclusion, it is often too easy to lose sight of the profound troubles facing the outside world. Over winter break, the isolating impact of Princeton’s campus became all too clear as I began to fully reengage with the political, social, and cultural crises that are plaguing American society. I realized through this reengagement that the isolation of Princeton life inadvertently limits the off-campus sociopolitical activism of Princetonians, which prevents Princeton students from making a more substantive difference in the outside world.
Admittedly, the isolating power of Princeton’s campus is a testament to the University’s abundance of opportunities, resources, social outlets, and academic demands. There is so much to do on campus that the outside world can feel like an afterthought. Homin Sam Ban put it best in a 2016 Daily Princetonian article: “When you are going about taking five classes, dancing away at [Tiger Inn], and miraculously finishing your problem sets, the outside world fades from your peripheral vision.”
But as Sam Ban confirms, we must remain a part of the wider world beyond Princeton; otherwise, we risk inadvertently limiting our engagement with society-wide crises.
It’s healthy to remind ourselves that we live privileged lives at Princeton. Although many Princetonians have been personally exposed to hardship, discrimination, and dispossession, many of us are far too unfamiliar with such suffering. It is easy to forget about the profound systematic inequities of the world when you are cooped up writing a paper in a dorm room or attending study breaks.
One may ask, what exactly is so vital about Princeton students being politically active off campus? Of course, activism on campus regarding Princeton-related issues is undoubtedly important. But many sociopolitical issues that are incredibly relevant to Princeton and college life more generally — such as sexual assault and harassment, racial and gendered exclusion, and cultural marginalization — are also relevant in a broader societal context. Hence, along with on-campus activism, social engagement off campus is unquestionably crucial for fighting injustice at Princeton and well beyond.
To truly combat injustice, one must be active on as broad a scale as possible because injustice is pervasive, geographically and otherwise. On-campus activism is highly needed and noble, but only a synthesis of on-campus and off-campus activism can destroy deep-seated inequality, exclusion, and hardship.
Similarly, Princeton students are some of the most intelligent, politically savvy, culturally diverse, and socially aware college students in the United States. It is a shame that a more unified and substantial cohort of the Princeton student body has not been mobilized to address the endless stream of political injustices and dysfunction created by the Trump administration. Princeton students, in other words, could have a larger voice on a national scale, which, given our experiences and intellectual backgrounds, could make a meaningful difference and inspire other cohorts of college students and young people to engage politically.
Moreover, increasing the political engagement of the Princeton student body starts with the Undergraduate Student Government. ‘Prince’ head opinion editor Nicholas Wu asserts in a powerful op-ed, “Our undergraduate government can, and should, do more to represent the interests of our students to the world outside of Princeton.” Wu goes on to state rightfully that “what happens in the outside world affects [Princeton students] just as much as anyone else.” Thereafter, Wu highlights steps USG could take to engage more on issues that affect Princeton students and U.S. society at large, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and immigration as well as tax reform.
I absolutely concur with Wu. USG, as a governmental entity of one of the most prestigious, wealthy, and well-resourced educational institutions in the world, must consistently advocate for policy initiatives that are in the moral and ideological interest of the majority of Princetonians. USG, therefore, has a large role to play in the effort to increase off-campus political activism.
Regardless of USG involvement, we, as Princeton students, must take it upon ourselves to engage more consistently with the outside world. The diversity of experience and intellectual orientation within the Princeton student body must be harnessed to address sociopolitical crises beyond the confines of the Orange Bubble. Activism and engagement of any lesser scope is insufficient.
Samuel Aftel is a sophomore from East Northport, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.