Taking a course at Princeton, conventional wisdom would have it, requires a commitment to intellectual life and academic output. Yet, it seems evident that our institution prioritizes rigor — or perceived rigor — over other considerations. This isn’t because rigor is required for understanding, nor because difficulty-for-the sake-of-difficulty is a pedagogical necessity.
Rather, the point of the challenge is to repeatedly demonstrate that we’re the best — that we can handle it.
This culture can be blamed on the institution itself and on the long-standing presence of a self-congratulatory ethos on campus. Princeton has long been deemed one of the finest universities in the country. The expectation that the rigor of assigned work determines the institution’s academic fortitude corresponds to that reputation. Sleep deprivation is not only normalized, but exalted. Meals are too-often worked through or altogether skipped. Emotional health is dispensable. Concentrations are ranked in a fairly baseless hierarchy.
For example, computer science is viewed by some as a more difficult concentration than anthropology (but technically, depending on whom you ask, any given concentration could be the hardest). This hierarchy allows us to disparage one another for choosing an “easy” course of study and to boast about having dodged that pesky distribution requirement.
This pretentiousness shrinks our own knowledge base because we overlook and belittle opportunities for learning that would otherwise broaden our intellectual outlook. This institutional self-affirmation does little to promote wellness or productivity among members of the Princeton community. We should refrain from reinforcing this pointlessly hyperintense culture. This “holier-than-thou” attitude can be degrading to peers who might be passionate about what you called an unworthy concentration.
We should be willing to expand our horizons and try to embody virtues beyond hard work. But of course, as long as the University continues to value needless rigor, students will too.
We are responsible for taking one another seriously — particularly in college, a place where self-doubt, profound insecurity, and indecision are constitutive. It is misguided to narrow our academic scope to only the most rigorous pursuits. Just because a concentration seems to entail more work does not mean it is necessarily more worthwhile or representative of scholarly merit — or really any sort of merit. Instead, it reflects our ability to function as metaphorical widgets in the industry of academic regurgitation.
Braden Flax is a sophomore from Merrick, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.