After my first month at Princeton, I’ve learned that time is one of the most valuable things a student has — it is more elusive than we’d like. Looking back at my first month at Princeton, amid tedious days that ran together, there were several memorable experiences that broke up the monotony of coursework. With this in mind, I asked several first-years about experiences that were particularly memorable during their start at Princeton.
Looking through the responses, as it turns out, Princeton critters leave deep imprints on the minds of many first-years.
After reflecting on my own experiences, it’s not hard to see why Princeton animals capture so much attention. For me, it’s the black squirrels. Despite being a New Jersey native, I’ve never seen a black squirrel in my life. What’s even odder is that black squirrels are very rare — according to the Smithsonian Magazine, they make up only one in 10,000 of their fellow squirrels. It is quite a phenomenon to see many of them. Perhaps it’s as I’ve heard: Princeton animals are built different.
The hornets were no joke. Philip Wang ’25 described them as a memorable part of his orientation experience during Community Action (CA).
“My CA group was attacked by hornets, not once, but twice,” he said. “After the first few got stung on a trail, the rest of our group tried a different direction, but little did we know that the two trails were interconnected.”
Ouch. It is unpleasant enough to have been assaulted by hornets, but to escape and encounter them again is just unfortunate. It seems this Community Action experience left its mark on Wang’s group — quite literally.
“All roads may lead to Rome,” Wang added, “but all trails apparently lead to intense itching and nasty bumps.”
Angela Challman ’25 also had a nasty experience with a cockroach in her room. She described trying to catch it with her roommates and ultimately needing to run to the campus store to get Raid. Challman’s experience is one of many I’ve heard among first-years, though most come from certain residential colleges. Personally, the sight of any large bug is enough to send me running in terror; I cannot imagine trying to catch or chase it down. Despite the whole ordeal, Challman states that, with her roommates, “it was definitely a bonding experience.”
Fatima Diallo ’25 also had an unfortunate experience, but her encounter with a Princeton animal had a positive ending. Like the many first-years who left their prox in their dorms during move-in, Diallo was locked out and had to make a trip to the Public Safety building — at 1 a.m.
“We were wearing our PJ’s and got lost a couple of times,” she said, “but we saw a fox for the first time and made it back safe!”
Diallo’s experience reminded me of my own encounter with the campus fox. After an evening meeting for orientation, I got lost on my way back. The poorly-lit campus didn’t help at all, but I miraculously found my way after encountering the campus fox on its nightly walk. I arrived in my dorm safely, seconds before the downpour that followed.
Although strictly a theory, perhaps a meeting with the famous campus fox brings good luck.
On a more positive note, there are also encounters with animals that do not as often involve late night misfortunes.
As one of the more commonly seen animals on campus, the deer are fawned over quite a lot. “I enjoy the vitality of the Princeton campus,” Cindy Li ’25 said. “When wild animals pop into my life, they make my day.”
She described seeing a herd of deer near Forbes, her residential college.
“They were adorable!” Li said.
As someone who has also seen deer by Forbes, I can attest to their cuteness. Unbothered by people, the family of deer can often be caught nibbling at the grass, minding their own business. If one is in the mood for deer-watching, take a trek to Forbes, and perhaps you can catch them munching on the Forbesian grass.
Conclusion: Princeton critters are a vital part of the first-year experience.
Based on these experiences, first-years have a fair dose of misfortune and become acquainted rather quickly with fellow residents of campus — including our animal and insect friends, who are bound to appear during our time here at Princeton.
Despite ups and downs to the start of the semester, the Class of 2025 is settling down into their new home. As the year moves forward, let’s hope our series of unfortunate events will lead them on more adventures and resolve in mostly happy endings.
Guanyi Cao is a contributing writer for The Prospect and a staffer in Photos at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @guanyii.cao.