I think if you ask anyone on campus if Princeton is diverse, you would hear a resounding “yes.” It’s not easy to overlook the multitude of student organizations we have here that embrace cultural affinities: the Chinese Students’ Association, South Asian Students’ Association, Black Student Union and the Taiwanese-American Students’ Association immediately come to mind. When you come to Princeton, you can join Mas Flow, Naacho, Ballet Folklorico, Triple 8 or a number of other cultural dance groups. You can sing in Umqombothi, V-Tone, Kindred Spirit or Koleinu as you choose. If you want to be a part of any of these groups, you can take your pick and affirm an identity.
So then why was I surprised when the Carl A. Fields Center sponsored an event called “My Princeton,” designed to embrace diversity and shared the voices of myriad students from a variety of groups and cultural backgrounds? Probably because it was one of the first events I had seen that allowed students to come together, rather than promoting the unique attributes of one specific group.
Sure, there are plenty of talks about ethnicity and diversity. But how many events put these concepts into practical application and actually showcase what students from each group are really doing? The busy schedule of a Princeton student does not allow us to stay up-to-date on the great things that each affinity group does, so this type of cultural expose (that doesn’t use food as its main marketing strategy like the TASA Night Market) is crucial to a greater understanding of Princeton’s eclectic array of cultural happenings. Granted, the primary goal of an affinity group is not only to introduce itself and its traditions to the greater Princeton community, but also to provide activities for its own members. I believe the internal and external aspects of these groups are equally important.
But how do biracial students feel? Or those who come from two faiths? Or someone who doesn’t quite fit into any of these affinity groups at all? Even if they are welcome to join any of these groups, it’s certainly not fair to make people choose one over another. Just as we don’t define our identity in one way, we shouldn’t have to use one group to showcase who we are. There need to be more opportunities, student groups and events that embrace who we are on the whole, not just in pieces.
But at Princeton, we don’t have a lot of events that encourage us to bring all of these identities together, to embrace a greater spirit of diversity. We have plenty of ways to side with one (or two, or possibly three) religious or racial aspect(s) of ourselves, but we must do so on separate planes. The Carl A. Fields Center is dedicated to equality and understanding and seeks to “create and promote a sense of belonging that permeates throughout all aspects of the Princeton community” and “foster [its] growth and unity,” but does it really? In my opinion, it mostly provides a venue for groups to showcase their own individual work — SASA’s Diwali Eid Banquet, for example, does not incorporate the traditions of any other group. How easy is it for them to pair up with Pehchaan (the Muslim Students’ Association), Princeton Hindu Satsangam or the Asian American Students’ Association to collaborate? And how often is this encouraged? CSA’s Around the World event seems to get at this idea of clumping together, but I’m imagining these kinds of events on a much larger scale. They should be promoted campus-wide and should target faculty, graduate students and greater Princeton community members as well.
In high school, I was part of a group called the Diversity Council. Even though we had a small student body, we were constantly focused on having discussions, fundraisers, and events that promoted diversity — which means, in my opinion, celebrating every facet (not just one or two or three) of every individual. I would love to see a model like this at Princeton, that understands the truly intricate meaning of diversity. On one hand, this means reaching out to those of other backgrounds, and collaborating with them to foster a greater sense of understanding of what each group does. On the other, promoting diversity means seeing people as more complex than mere embodiments of one identity group or another. I think that if we really think hard about what it is that defines each one of us culturally, we’ll see that we aren’t just one shade of human. We each have so many hues, and we need to let them mix together.
Prianka Misra is a sophomore from Castro Valley, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.