Let’s be honest: many of us love the status quo. I hate the status quo, but it sustains me and if you happen to be affiliated with this university, it may also sustain you. This sustenance, however, is no justification for its maintenance.
The student protest in November was a fight against the oppression that this system — not solely Princeton University — has amassed for centuries. But the idea that Princeton students can be oppressed is baffling to some. Can students who attend an Ivy League institution, who own MacBooks, who can read and write theses, be truly oppressed?
It is true that I am not oppressed in the traditional sense. Certain parts of my identity afford me privilege that has no parallel among the vast majority of the “global south” and even some peers who walk by me every day. But even if I were a white, cisgender, heterosexual, Protestant, upper-class male, I would still carry with me the vestiges of oppression. This should not be a radical thought. More than a century ago, Frederick Douglass wrote, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” Put another way: your privilege may save you from surface-level threat, but that is it. Your white privilege may, among other things, grant you easier access to jobs. If you are cisgender, you may not be killed as a result of your gender identity. If you identify with these brackets, this should not make you feel threatened or less entitled to the resources you have. Instead it should indicate something else: in the end, regardless of our privilege, we all suffer. Imagine all that is lost when we decide that the comfort of our status quo means keeping our fellow humans down so that “we” can stay afloat.
What does that mean for us? How much do we share with disadvantaged communities both here and abroad? Maybe not much, yet we should think of their fate as attached to ours. It is difficult for us to do this, even when we join service-oriented student organizations. Many of us are dedicated to promoting energy efficiency at the University or prison and education reform, but ultimately this work may mean less to us due to the privilege we have gained upon entering Princeton. From the moment we walked through the FitzRandolph Gate, we were inundated with the idea that this is the “best damn place of all,” cloaked with the sentimentality of “Old Nassau.” While this serves to make us proud of our school, it contrasts Princeton with the “real world” where suddenly so many things are not possible. We may go from student government to national governments, but some of us become jaded. The real world we join does not take kindly to protests or protesters, often deeming them rioters. Thus the “real world” upholds a status quo that tells our fellow human beings to stop being offended and maintains a white supremacist, patriarchal framework that has existed for far too long.
So what can we do with the four years we have at Princeton? We are privileged in the sense that we attend an Ivy League institution. This cannot be stressed enough, as recognition of this is not justification for why our work on campus should be just another resume-builder. Rather, it should be used as motivation to be understanding of the ways we can use our positions at the University to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. We must never become complacent in our understandings of our place in the status quo, even if our battles on campus appear small and irrelevant to what occurs in the “outside world.” It’s the fight that matters, as well as the willingness to believe that the change we make here on campus will translate to change in the “real world.” We should challenge ourselves to question everything, even if we are told there are no answers.
Imani Thornton is a sophomore from Matteson, Ill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.