I think I like the campus construction.
“Like” probably isn’t the right word, because it’s not like I’m excited by rattling drills and crumbling facades.
Maybe what I “like” about it is the automatic response. There’s something satisfying and unifying in the words “God I hate the construction” that everyone can say to each other in passing whims, even if we don’t believe it.
Maybe part of it is the feeling that the school cares about the future enough to not just stagnate, not die slowly, but purposefully purge itself in a process of revival. Coming from California, where the unbridled undergrowth has contributed to orange skies and somber phone calls, the piercing sight of a home stripped away with real plans for a replacement seems hopeful; it represents the urge to resist death and see something in the future. And for our growing class, filling the university to its brim, expansion promises at least some focus. I understand the upperclassmen’s dislike of the changes, the school does seem to be signaling more of a perspective towards the future than the present. But I like to hope we’re part of that future vision. And when there are so many important campus issues—like the consistent lack of accessibility—the crumbling of these questionable living conditions at least leaves room for hope. And what’s the price for this hope? 1939 hall, with the plaque dedicating it “to the use of Princeton’s men”?
Maybe the reason I love the construction is because it denies Princeton’s ideal of perfection. While every stony face dares to tell me why they are special, with “legacy” and “history” carrying such a heavy weight all around, the reduction to rubble provides an uncomfortable view, but a sight for sore eyes that are heavy from seeing just Victorian castles. If Mathey can distinguish itself because of its contrast from the outside world, why can’t settling dust and ghostly husks distinguish themselves from the inside. It’s the same feeling I get when someone riding an electric scooter falls in front of me, or someone who I know is smart stutters in class and the red rises to greet their cheeks. It can seem mean-spirited, or insecure, but the reality that each unique individual fails puts me at ease. And I think that’s what the construction does for me. It strips me from the lull that this school drives me into—the perpetual glimmer of our reputation—and it makes us a University, not just Princeton. Maybe the Orange Bubble can only really be popped by a jackhammer.
Back home, in a hazy house party, someone asks me and my friends where we go to school. I say “New Jersey” and my voice droops a little bit, not because I don’t feel pride, but because neither the congratulatory response nor the disdainful one makes me happy. It’s stupid and I get that, but there’s some overbearing reputation that comes with the school. So when I wake up to the sound of a truck reversing, or walk past a window with no pane, seeing barren gray walls, I’m reminded of my own nervous reserve in the words “New Jersey.” Construction strips the history from the buildings—and then all that’s left is a building in New Jersey.
In the end, maybe it’s just that the construction has been here as long as I have. Some monotony, some soothing ever-present construction, lines my walks to class. The people pass by, my classes advance, and my schedule feels like it’s changing constantly. The fact that I can count so much on the orange vests and moving machinery means something to me, because if it was gone, Princeton wouldn’t feel like Princeton anymore. When the location of construction changes, it snaps me from my zombie-like trance. I check my phone and find a new route, a new campus path I haven’t explored. The construction provides hope, for something I can wish for but not depend on.
Maybe that fleeting nature is part of its appeal. Maybe the fact that the view I get when I look up, the remnants of a place where someone used to live or someone used to study, can be gone in an instant—maybe that’s part of the appeal too. Past what will rise from its rubble, there’s something enchanting about the deconstruction of it all, about the speed with which a roach motel can tumble to the dirt. The pace at which an institution, a home, and a landmark can just disappear, is astounding and demands my attention. And I know this fascination with its unraveling isn’t just mine, instagram pages like @ripfirstcollege amass hundreds of followers within weeks. It’s like a car crash by the side of the road, everybody slows down to turn their head and look. It forces me to look up and take in the ugly views because the only thing I can be sure of is that at some point they’ll be gone. And I can reach for the memory of what once was, but instead I find myself more attracted to the idea of the buildings as they are now, just by knowing they’ll vanish someday. My routine is disrupted and I’m forced to take in my surroundings, to slow down and look around.
There is no way to know what will come from the ruins. It could be good or bad and that’s part of the fear that comes from change. It’s also part of the excitement though. Regardless of the end result, I find myself attracted to the cranes and dying buildings, for everything listed here and a swarm of other vague emotions I feel in my gut.
All I know is that for some reason I like the campus construction.