There is no denying that the Princeton undergraduate experience is luxurious. Free Tacoria seems ubiquitous at campus events. Residential colleges offer free massages during midterm week and free Broadway trips throughout the year. Some seminar classes include trips abroad that are fully funded, regardless of students’ financial aid status. These perks reduce the stressful, overwhelming nature of life at Princeton. But, these luxuries create a sense of entitlement, and alienate us from the vast majority of the world’s population. That entitlement discourages us from pursuing careers in public service.
The University’s amenities bolster wealthy students’ expectation of a high quality of life, while initiating lower- and middle-income students into the elite, moneyed class by introducing them to the life of luxury that many will enjoy after graduation. It might seem like this is egalitarian, breaking down the social divide within the class, but in practice, it facilitates the high-paying Princeton-to-private-sector pipeline and suggests that the University is more interested in perpetuating privilege than producing more public servants and a more equitable society. Considering the University’s unofficial motto “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” this seems to contradict its expressed mission as an educational institution.
Some might also argue that we should receive exorbitant amenities at Princeton because of the high cost of attendance. But this is a misguided argument because only wealthy students are paying Princeton’s sticker price, given that the University’s financial aid is among the most generous in the country. And this perspective reflects a perversion of priorities — we should recognize an elite education, not an elite lifestyle, as the purpose of a prestigious educational institution. By having so many luxurious amenities available, we sometimes lose sight of that purpose.
There are significant negative effects to a culture of luxury. Attending a school where affluence is rampant and many students’ quality of life is so removed from most people's reality can warp our expectations of what constitutes a comfortable lifestyle after college. Indeed, for many of us, our standard of living at Princeton can only be maintained post-graduation by acquiring a lucrative corporate job. The popularity of the leap into the corporate sector is concretely reflected in students’ postgraduate outcomes: only seven percent of School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) majors land in the public sector, despite the program’s emphasis on public service. This phenomenon isn’t limited to SPIA, however: 30 percent of Comparative Literature majors go into business or finance, more than any other career path. Although making money and serving humanity are a false dichotomy, The Daily Princetonian’s Senior Survey for the Class of 2023 reveals a correlation between high expected income and acknowledgement that one’s postgraduate plans are not, “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”
Of course, there are some legitimate reasons for Princeton to maintain an abundance of perks for students. Getting rid of campus-sponsored free food events means high-income students will be able to afford frequent takeout dinners where their lower-income peers will not. This could engender an even more exclusionary social environment. The University could decrease its focus on luxury for all, while instead promoting equity by redistributing funds initially allocated to free food towards stipends for students receiving aid. Rather than spending equally on all students, Princeton should match the distribution of funds that are currently used for recreation based on students’ personal economic backgrounds.
It is essential for us to understand that the privileges and amenities Princeton afford us are not normal. By being conscious of the opulence that surrounds us, we can avoid internalizing the belief that our degrees and academic achievements make us more deserving of a high quality of life. Being provided luxury for no reason other than the school we attend can not only foster a superiority complex, but disincentivize public service work. This reduces or eradicates any sense of obligation to serve the disadvantaged and estranges us from the world outside the Orange Bubble. If the University truly wants to realize its oft-cited motto, it should mitigate the normalization of luxury that takes place on campus every day.
Frances Brogan is a first-year contributing columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.