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You might know the type: the social justice warrior on your Facebook feed, posting provocative articles about white privilege, gentrification or the death of yet another black person killed by a police officer. If you’re anything like me, you might assume that these warriors would probably be one of those humanities or social science major. They take classes with really long titles about race, gender or nationality and use words like “intersectional” and “problematic” more than your average B.S.E. major.
“The point of college is to be offended,” my friend said as we left our annual middle school reunion. His words took me by surprise, and we soon ended up in a conversation about rising tension on college campuses. It seemed to the two of us that recent student protests across the country were asking, tragically, for less exposure to controversial material.
With Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” playing from the room’s speakers and accompanying my steps, I marched confidently into Richardson Auditorium two weeks ago. I was there to hear Laverne Cox, a woman who is the epitome of confidence, personally tell her powerful message: “trans is beautiful.”
“Freedom, ‘I’dom, ‘Me’dom, where’s your ‘We’dom?” It’s an unequivocal call for compassion, sympathy and solidarity. Pop artist M.I.A.’s seemingly stoic but nonetheless fierce mien prefaces a stark shot of hundreds of people running in two straight lines behind her in her newest song, “Borders.” The scene of the self-directed music video is meant to emulate the reality of the refugee crisis today, hordes of people escaping their homes, climbing fences, packing into boats.
“Too poor for college, too rich for financial aid” is a phrase that describes the awkward financial status of those who can afford college, but not comfortably. Many upper middle class families belong to this income bracket. They are financially secure, but even for them, the extravagant cost of college these days is a huge burden. Therefore, when it comes to summer planning, many such families find that they simply cannot justify spending additional thousands of dollars so that their children can participate in summer study abroad programs.
Everyone knows “that kid” in precept. The one who talks far too much. The one who has the answer to every question. The one who tries to influence the professor into grading tests, essays or problem sets more favorably. We have all dealt with one during our Princeton experience.
I hate to do this, but let's talk about Yik Yak for a moment.
I grew up in Colorado. When I tell people this, they usually make some reference to its natural beauty, its ski resorts, or the possibility of legally purchasing marijuana there for recreational purposes. The associations that most people have with Colorado are, thus, not historical in nature. Even as I think about it now, I have trouble thinking of a major historical figure or event associated with Colorado. It is not a place with much of a history.
Take a flashback with me for a moment. It’s 2013, and your favorite Sports Editor is riding on Cloud Nine after his beloved hometown team has had their best season in years. The New York Knicks — a longtime source of shame for many in the Big Apple — had absolved themselves of the previous decade’s disappointments. With a record of 54-28, and a long-overdue trip to the conference semifinals, the team had finally become something that all of us could look upon with pride.
On Nov. 16, Luke Gamble wrote an opinion article titled “Mr. Hollande, No new wars”. In the article, Gamble cautioned France against making the same mistakes the US did after 9/11 by creating a “broad and blind war on terror.” While I agree with the sentiment of restraint shown in the article, I believe that such absolute pacifism is not the answer. Rather, we must use a combination of drone strikes and local allies both to destroy the Islamic State and to fight similar wars in the future.
Here’s the thing: Ours is a campus with a long history and an infinite future that’s wrestling with the currents of the roiling present. We’re part of the Ivy League, but Princeton is hardly an ivory tower. And although we like our “orange bubble,” it’s not really the protective skin we sometimes believe. Nor should it be. Everything we do at Princeton has some relationship to the world outside our doors. That relationship should be robust, as well as continually revised, reconsidered and renovated.
Intrigued by rumors about inflammatory posts about the protests in Nassau Hall, I made the mistake of downloading YikYak again last week. Frankly, the conversation on YikYak and other social media about the protests disgusted me. Behind the veil of anonymity, the id of Princeton University came out in full force. Posts on social media of all kinds seemed to fall into one of two categories. One category unequivocally supported the protestors in Nassau Hall. Another category would unequivocally denounce them. And the vitriol between the two sides effectively left no room in the middle for a conversation to be held.
Dear Princeton Student Protesters:
I am pleased to hear that students finally decided it was time for Woodrow Wilson’s name to be expunged from our campus. Now that it has been conclusively shown that this President of the United States and of Princeton supported — as did most of his contemporaries, undoubtedly — segregation, any other contribution he had as a national and world leader becomes of course immediately irrelevant. To imagine that for all this time we thought our school of public policy was named after the man who, in the wake of the First World War, founded the League of Nations, supported global democracy (against many of his contemporaries), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, and supported women’s suffrage! These so-called contributions do nothing to efface his racism: and so he should be effaced from our campus and our collective memory.
I sat with the Black Justice League for over six hours during Wednesday’s sit-in protest in the office of University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83. I listened. I applaud the group’s unapologetic passion. I defend the group’s ability to fight to shape their educational experience. I, too, want their education at Princeton to be filled with inclusivity and equality.
By now there has been a lot written about the recent activism at Yale and Mizzou both within and outside the Orange Bubble. Though the heart of the issue is about the systemic and structural racism that still pervades college campuses, including the University’s, the debate has largely become one about free speech. While most pieces have centered around debating this right and to what extent, if any, it should be restricted, few have discussed the responsibilities that go along with that right. And because of the dearth of conversation on that important ethical aspect of this discussion, I’d like to add one more log to the pile.
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, in their novel “Good Omens,”wrote “most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.” I remembered these words this month as I watched the world bleed, this week as campus tore itself apart over race, and this year as dear friends, despite (or because of) their senses of justice, loyalty and love, hurt each other and me. We are all ineffable, magnificent beings, but that same ineffability all too often builds walls of hate and misunderstanding.
There are many in this country that argue political correctness is killing our constitutional right to freedom of speech. I usually contest such notions, particularly when they concern events such as those that have occurred at Yale, the University of Missouri and other campuses where students feel unsafe. However, last week I came to the conclusion that perhaps political correctness may be murdering something else: the way in which we can express our feelings about race relations in this country.
On Wednesday, the Black Justice League presented to the student body and the administration a list of three demands, designed to make Princeton more welcoming to black students. The first of these demands was to problematize the legacy of former University president Woodrow Wilson and remove his name from the Woodrow Wilson School and Wilson residential college, and to remove the mural of his face from Wilson dining hall. Problematizing his legacy is an important and worthwhile goal. However, removing his name and picture from Princeton’s campus, although well-intentioned, is short sighted and detrimental to real debate and discussion.
There are probably very few people who have not heard of the tragedy that struck Paris this past Friday. As the horrific events unfolded and the number of lives lost continued to escalate, the genuine threat of terrorism — of ISIS — and the havoc it has been wreaking in the Middle East and Africa hit home. People of all nationalities took to social media to show their support for the French. Facebook let its users overlay the French flag over profile pictures. People began using hashtags like “#prayforparis.” It seemed that overnight, the world had come together in a moment of solemn solidarity.