The COS 126 lecture on Mar. 6 was unorthodox to say the least. At the end of the lecture, the instructor directed our attention towards a stranger wearing a blue zip-up hoodie and jeans, who ascended the platform at the front of McCosh 50. The man was neither a professor nor a TA, but identified himself as a grad student. Speaking rapidly, he mentioned something about “student events,” then proceeded to explain that he was selling heavily discounted paintballing tickets to Cousins Paintball. He offered two tickets for $10, which wouldn’t expire for two years, and he said that we could buy paintballs on site which were “pretty cheap.”
Thinking that this sounded like a fun opportunity which almost seemed too good to be true, I bought some tickets, as did hordes of other students. It wasn’t until later when I got a chance to look at the fine print that I discovered the words, “MINIMUM PAINTBALL PURCHASE REQUIRED.” It took one phone call to find out that the minimum purchase cost nearly six times the price of a ticket. The man had never mentioned this. Furthermore, a little searching revealed that Groupon offered packages at Cousins Paintball with more flexibility for paintball purchase, and at a lower price.
Confused, I reached out to the instructor, but he admitted that he did not know who the stranger was, only that the man claimed to be a representative of the university. I emailed the Princeton Student Events Committee, hoping that he might be affiliated; he was not.
It dawned on me that we had all been scammed…in class. I was stunned. And the problem was not unique to COS 126 either— this man had been to other lectures as well. I emailed multiple student organizations in an attempt to identify him, though these efforts were futile: no one seemed to know who he was. Somehow, without proper verification, this man was able to enter our classrooms, and for some reason he was also given the time and space to promote his questionable business. It is alarming that an unidentified individual, who may or may not be affiliated with the University, could so effortlessly waltz in and use the classroom as a formal advertising space.
Perhaps it is the students’ responsibility to discern between honest and fraudulent practices. However, in this situation, their judgement was skewed by the fact that the situation occurred in class. The instructor implicitly endorsed the unidentified man by allowing him an opportunity during lecture to speak. We as students were more willing to listen to what he had to say because of the authority which it conferred. We trusted the University, and this caused us to let our guards down and believe this man more than we otherwise might have. In a different setting, fewer students would have so eagerly bought tickets; they would have taken more time to think about the context and question the reliability of the source.
But as it was, we flocked towards the man after class with our cash, cards, and most importantly trust, hoping to take part in this wonderful offer. After all, the man had been granted a legitimate platform to make his announcement— we automatically assumed, therefore, that he must have been credible. Yet, the opposite was true. Although the “Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities” handbook states that no one can “make sales … on behalf of an off-campus individual or organization,” there are no regulations in place to determine who is allowed to make an official announcement in class, and what protocol they must follow. Thus, this man that claimed to be affiliated with the University (but didn’t offer proof to show it) was still able to market to the entire COS 126 lecture. The result was that students were directly taken advantage of.
Our trust in the University should not result in exploitation. The faith that we place in this school and campus, as students, should not be taken lightly. As such, the University must take measures to regulate non-course related announcements in lectures— especially those of a commercial nature— by banning them entirely.
Sad to say, it looks like paintballing in COS 126 was really too good to be true.
Siyang Liu is a freshman from Princeton, NJ. She can be reached at Siyangl@princeton.edu.