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The athlete stigma: what’s the alternative?

This year, the University elected to make either Outdoor Action or Community Action mandatory components of pre-orientation for incoming freshmen – except for athletes. Athletes will participate in discussions and workshops on campus that mirror those taking place on OA and CA trips. This institutionalized division between athletes and non-athletes is of particular interest to me, because it seems to entrench an existing campus tension.

Most on this campus would acknowledge the existence of a social divide between athletes and non-athletes. Partly, this because athletes spend hours together at practices, lift sessions and traveling for games. The forced time together naturally establishes friendships and social groups. Another contributor to the divide is scheduling. Many campus activities are scheduled between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. because classes are not in session. Athletes have scheduled practice at this time every day, preventing them from integrating themselves into other campus activities.


This division is not limited to our social spheres. I have heard athlete friends discuss the discomfort they feel about speaking in precepts because they are often immediately dismissed as they are assumed to be, somehow, less qualified to answer. This only compounds the separation by isolating athletes from non-athletes, even in the classroom setting.

The justification, “they got in because they’re an athlete,” is thrown around with too much ease. We don’t realize the gravity of what we are implying. If there are negative connotations to this phrase –which, in my experience, there are –to this phrase, then we are implying, first, that it is likely that the individual in question isn’t up to the average academic standards at Princeton, and, second, that athletic talent is not valued as highly as academic talent at Princeton.

In order for the second premise to have any validity, we must fundamentally believe that Princeton is purely an institution for the elites of academia and nothing else. If we trivialize the accomplishments of athletes with the assumption that they are not up to par with some arbitrary academic standard we believe Princeton should enforce, we delegitimize the notion that some level of diversity is preferred over maintaining unduly rigorous academic standards.

The consequences of this belief system are more severe than we might realize. It naturally creeps toward the preference of campus homogeny by increasing preferred academic thresholds even within our own community. Though athletes are the currently targeted group, who is to say where this belief will lead us next? Should we not also admit the excellent musician because he is not also an excellent math student?

Under that belief system, students admitted to the arts program would produce art more like the doodles I draw in lecture than the impressive work we see now. When we continue to socially enforce our subjective academic standards, we begin to strip ourselves of diversity and create unnecessary social partitions. We become less Princeton, and more Caltech.

The administration should consider the consequences of establishing this divide between athletes and non-athletes before the first week of freshman year. OA and CA trips should integrate athletes and non-athletes, preventing some of these stereotypes and divisive mentalities from forming early on. Rather than entrench division, we should aim to entrench diversity.


Jacquelyn Thorbjornson is a freshman from South Thomaston, Maine. She can be reached at

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