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The ‘Princeton Plague’ goes national

<h5>Whig Hall under the faint glow of a Tuesday morning sunrise.</h5><h6>Timothy Park / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Whig Hall under the faint glow of a Tuesday morning sunrise.
Timothy Park / The Daily Princetonian

Much attention has been recently paid to the prevalence of unshakable illnesses among undergraduates. The unforgiving academic environment of Princeton gives little room for recovery and facilitates the constant spread of unrelenting sickness. This phenomenon is hardly exclusive to our university community, though, which takes its cues from the national community.

The indifference, even hostility, of the wider society to the health of its population is especially demonstrated by recent discourse concerning paid family leave, an essential and basic provision that much of the world now takes for granted. Without it, the United States will continue to suffer from a large-scale and everlasting version of the periodic “Princeton Plague.”  

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It is worth remembering that while the Republicans are most adamant about their opposition to paid family leave, the Democrats — not unlike Princeton — may claim to support those in need, but frequently fail to act on these claims.

At Princeton, we often wonder if our physical and mental struggles, along with how we choose to cope with and manage them, are “normal” or “legitimate.” Consequently, we continue to attend classes even when we shouldn’t from a medical or self-care perspective, endangering ourselves and those around us. As arduous as the academic environment may be, we do not make such choices out of necessity alone. In fact, strictly speaking, most things we choose to do, we don’t actually “have to” do.  

Yet, environmental pressures still exist that discourage us from taking the time we need to care for ourselves. If we do take this time, we feel guilty about having done so, assuming that those around us feel disrespected by our failure to always be our best selves. That is to say, we are convinced not only of the necessity of these unhealthy habits, but also of the moral, intellectual, and civic righteousness of the institutions and ideologies that put us through it. Operating with this mindset, it seems that neither Princeton nor the outside world could conceivably be any different. And if they were, it would be to our individual and collective peril — a blow to the rigor that makes us such great paragons of Western civilization. And too often, those around us feed these toxic notions, even when this isn’t their intention.  

Some prominent public figures are more honest about their lack of commitment to the well-being of their constituents. When United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg temporarily took time for paternity leave, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) rebuked his personal choice savagely. 

In doing so, she accomplished three negatives at once. First, she propagated the sexist trope that taking care of children is the nearly exclusive domain of the mother. Accompanying this internalized bigotry against her own sex, of course, was the gut-wrenchingly homophobic implication that people like Buttigieg and his husband are somehow inferior in their preparedness to raise children: after all, where is the mother? Lastly, she attempted to invalidate the very necessary struggle for paid family leave across the board — not just for a privileged few — by preemptively belittling those countless citizens who would no doubt take advantage of it, and whose family lives would be the better for it.  

Of course, Boebert’s on-the-nose animosity is not generally the way of Princeton, which more closely resembles her Democratic Party opponents, who use more sympathetic rhetoric than she does while simultaneously supporting the same system of brutal social alienation. Like Princeton, the Democrats claim to act as an empathetic and representative voice to the downtrodden and disadvantaged. Princeton’s hollow recommendations to take care of ourselves while making it increasingly difficult to do so correspond distressingly to the Democratic claims to be on the side of the people despite their much more reliable failures to actually deliver on promises like paid family leave. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are, of course, eager and convenient scapegoats, but the Democrats have never been compatible with the notion of true democracy. 

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Given the Democrats’ poor showing in the recent elections, it seems that voters recognize this contradiction (of course, the Republicans’ relative success should not be taken as evidence of their superior political priorities, but rather as a manifestation of more effective rhetorical ploys). The question is: when will we at Princeton develop a similar realization about our own school? The Democrats would have you believe that you’re a bad citizen if you don’t support them, in the same way that Princeton would see you rack yourself with guilt over a difficult-to-avoid absence. Both are wrong, and we’ll all be better off once we rid ourselves of the self-defeating thinking they tend to instill.  

Braden Flax is a senior from Merrick, N.Y. He can be reached at bflax@princeton.edu.  

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