When I came across Makailyn Jones’s opinion piece, entitled “CAF: Center Absurdly Faraway,” two things immediately came to mind. The first was a friend’s use of the same phrase in reference to a pastry shop on the Upper West Side, which — from her apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant — is absurdly far away. The second was the following entry in Ambrose Bierce’s tongue-in-cheek (and admittedly obscure) work, “The Devil’s Dictionary”:
“Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.”
I was hoping that Jones’s article would surprise me and knock the wind out of Bierce’s cynicism. It did not.
She begins by lamenting the pilgrimage that ostensibly must be undertaken to reach the Carl A. Fields Center. A quick search on Apple Maps reveals that the Fields Center is 0.3 miles from Frist Campus Center. For comparison, the distance from Frist to Frick Chemistry Laboratory is also 0.3 miles; to the E-Quad, 0.5 miles; to the Dinky Station, 0.6 miles. Somehow, this distance — comparable to that of other frequent campus destinations — is “more than disappointing.” Her thinking goes that the physical location of the Fields Center indicates mere lip service to diversity at Princeton.
The Fields Center came into existence nearly 50 years ago under the name “Third World Center.” Over the past half-century, the growth of the Fields Center has not only earned it a much better name, but its own house as well, which is actually closer to Princeton than the original. To be fair, the first location was simply on the far corner of Olden Street at the same intersection, but if our units of interest are tenths of miles, this seems relevant. More importantly, the University has allocated millions of dollars over nearly five decades to encourage the physical and functional presence of the Fields Center in the Princeton community. This level of pecuniary support hardly seems to reflect “a lack of true concern with the state of cultural understanding within the framework of the University.”
Financial investment is not, of course, the only way the University shows support for its institutional priorities. I will not waste column inches listing for the reader the dozens of courses taught, lectures offered, and social functions sponsored by the University that create awareness of women’s rights, LGBT studies, racial justice, religious freedom, non-Western traditions, non-American cultures, etc. I will, however, mention the second level of Frist, which is dedicated almost entirely to diverse spaces, such as the Women*s Center, the LGBT Center, and the Office of Disability Services. Jones mentions the two centers, but to a different end. Apparently, only the presence of the Fields Center in Frist would represent “an active engagement in the true prospect of diversity.” But isn’t that just what these centers do? It remains unclear what “true” diversity entails, if not the availability of resources just like these.
One criticism is that Frist is not really central, so using it as a landmark is misrepresentative. Nonetheless, our campus is contained within roughly one square mile; the Fields Center is no less accessible than East Pyne Hall or the New South Building, depending on your point of departure. I’m also simply responding to Jones’s contention that the Fields Center should have a branch in Frist. Partners of the Fields Center are located throughout campus: the Office of Religious Life in Murray-Dodge Hall, SHARE and CPS in McCosh Health Center, the Davis International Center at the top of Washington Road. We might consider that Princeton has dedicated itself so significantly to diversity that related programming actually permeates the Orange Bubble. Perhaps Jones is really saying that her own “favorite place to study” is farther than she would like — not a unique problem. She admits to being “used to the long treks to classes past Washington Road.” Of course, these “long treks” are actually short walks, and nobody would argue that the University doesn’t value crew because the boathouse isn’t next to their dorm.
Let me also be the first to forestall any worry that I am insensible to the role of the Fields Center in our campus dialogue about race. Started by conscientious students in 1971, the Fields Center has consistently done excellent work to promote inclusion at the University. The Women*s Center was also founded in 1971, originally located in the Green Hall Annex. Frist was not converted into a campus center until 2000, after which the Women*s Center and LGBT Center (established in 2005) migrated there. Space is limited yet multipurpose in Frist, and given the robust offerings and long history of the Fields Center, it could only have seemed fitting to dedicate an entire building to it (58 Prospect Avenue in 2009). If Jones or others are worried that this placement seems peripheral, may I suggest that being located among the eating clubs — which, like Frist, constitute an important social locus — is actually felicitous?
Even at an institution that offers so much to its students, it can be tempting to find fault where very little exists. This isn’t to say that Princeton is without shortcomings, but the location of the Fields Center simply isn’t one of them — nor, it’s worth mentioning, are the relative architectural merits of McCosh Hall or other minor imperfections that Princeton students have allowed themselves the luxury of bemoaning. What would be absurd is if these resources didn’t exist at all — and I’m grateful that they do.
I imagine that readers personally unacquainted with me may have looked me up, if only in the interest of discerning what exactly qualifies me to hold forth on this subject. Though it may appear that I am a WASP-y Southerner with no horse in this race, I am in fact a member of a vibrant minority community on this campus. I somewhat resent the innuendo that I am only informed enough or permitted to offer my thoughts on rhetorical issues if I happen to represent an implicated identity, but those who had doubts about the validity of my perspective at this article’s beginning may now put them to bed: Inclusion of diverse people affects me, too — and sometimes, you have to meet folks halfway.
Princeton’s diversity is apparent wherever a student sets foot; the variety of nationalities, identities, and opinions among my friends never fails to challenge and excite me. We find diversity in proportion to our own open-mindedness. I regret that space-time cannot be collapsed to allow everything of importance to be identically convenient to all students at all times. Nonetheless, if something is truly important to you, it’s not enough to talk the talk: you must literally walk the walk. At Princeton, aren’t we lucky it’s a short one?
Owen Ayers is a senior in comparative literature from Richmond, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.