It is Saturday and a drunk Princeton student is stumbling home through Frist Campus Center on one of the many nights on the Street where an eating club’s theme demands no pants, just boxers. Famished and too intoxicated from a night of booze and dancing on slick eating club floors, he saunters down into the Frist gallery, and with some pizza and fries on the table in front of him, the aroma of hot grease wafting, he loses control. With crowds of inebriated students around him waiting for “drunk pizza,” his penis slips out of his boxers and he begins to urinate. “He just started peeing while he was sitting in the chair, and it went all over the floor and as soon as that happened, [he] just ran out of Frist.”
I spoke to an undergraduate student worker at Frist’s Welcome Desk who requested anonymity. He worried about consequences from his employer for highlighting some of the ridiculous things that he has seen Public Safety and Frist staff let slide without much more than a slap on students’ wrists. Thus, I will call him Andrew. According to Andrew, this drunk student—with newfound stains all over his boxers—did not get very far, thanks to a swift pursuit by Public Safety, though his punishment did not appear to go further than a session of public shaming. “[Public Safety] eventually caught him and made him apologize to the dining staff and the building services person who had to clean everything up, and then they had to put up “Warning, Don’t Walk” signs all around the area because he had created a huge biohazard.” Andrew was not sure whether the student received additional punishment later, but he gleaned that P-Safe had decided to let this bout of public urination go.
Andrew and other student workers were there to witness what had happened, but they luckily did not have to clean up the mess. Cleaning up student urine is apparently part of the job for Frist’s fulltime staff, but I find it difficult to believe that potential Princeton employees apply to Frist envisioning themselves mopping up excretions of the hallowed student body. It seems likes a cruel surprise, to arrive at an institution where students are lauded for their seemingly boundless achievements, only to find that they have lost control of some basic bodily functions.
This is an extreme example, but Drunk Frist is where some of the most raucous Princeton personas emerge, from the chair-smashers to the frat brothers who start thundering sing-alongs. On Thursday and Saturday nights, the Frist cafeteria food becomes extra satisfying for drunken stomachs, with lines of wobbly students looping around tables and chairs. The rest of the time, Frist is bustling, filled with students working through problem sets and papers, grabbing late meal, holding club meetings. This is Normal Frist. But in Drunk Frist, standards of decorum disappear, as if nightfall on Thursday and Saturday sends the message: you can do whatever you want here. “[There was] a time someone puked over a couple couches in the TV lounge … actually, people have puked over couches in the TV lounge multiple times…”
Andrew believes that no one has truly “wrecked Frist.” But Drunk Frist evokes strange tendencies, some even in the vein of kleptomania. He recounts that one time while sitting at the Welcome Desk on a Thursday or Saturday night, in plain sight of Frist’s pool tables, “some drunk bro just ran past and took a cue ball and kept walking.” On Friday and Sunday mornings, after nights of Princeton debauchery, if you look out for it, you may spot broken chairs from Frist, smashed on asphalt. Andrew points out that drunk people are destructive all over campus, whether it be in their dorm rooms or eatings clubs, but what makes Drunk Frist special is its high concentration of intoxicated students.
Drunk Frist can also inspire lethargy. On multiple occasions, Frist employees have found students after a night on the Street who inadvertently doze off in bathroom stalls. “People sometimes pass out in the bathroom which is disconcerting, but sometimes people are just sleeping in the bathroom…We knock on the door [of the bathroom stalls], because they have them locked, but they’ll just be sitting on the floor. We ask them if they’re okay, and they’re often like ‘Oh yeah, I was just dozing off! I’ll be out in a second.’ And then we tell them, okay, just wake up and get on your merry way, the building’s closed.”
The timeline of a Thursday or Saturday night is almost always the same, Andrew says. Around 11 p.m., a bunch of a cappella groups filter through Frist to perform at 1879 Arch. Around 11:45 to 12:30 a.m. is when people start trekking from pre-games to the Street. Then there is a lull from 12:30 to 1:30 a.m., where people study in silence. Andrew says this hour is when Frist “might be more silent than any other time during the day,” the moment just before the cage door opens and animalistic Princetonians arrive. Then at 1:45 a.m., the action begins, and Frist transforms into Drunk Frist, buzzing until 3 when the building shuts down.
Andrew asserts that the “in-the-gallery experience” is unique. Sitting in the gallery on a Thursday or Saturday night is a way to get homework done while gaining insight into the diverse ethnography of drunk Princeton students. “Sometimes it is fun to just sit down in the Frist Gallery with some homework starting at 11 and staying there until 3. I’ve done that before and it is really funny, because you see how crowded and how packed it gets. … If you’re completely sober, you get to see everything in a different light than if you’re drunk at Frist. It’s always funny to see how different groups on campus treat a night on the Street.”
The population of students in Frist Gallery is always eclectic, but I wondered if Andrew thought that this serves as a buffer to some of the more unseemly things that are usually only uttered softly among certain Princeton social circles. For example, if you look at Princeton FML and the up-and-coming app YikYak, online platforms on which Princeton students have free reign to post anonymously, the undercurrent of racism, sexism, and homophobia that permeates select circles of Princeton’s campus rears its ugly head. For example, earlier today on Yik Yak I read a post that went, “I’m Asian and wear glasses, so I always wish I were an athlete so people would take pity on me when I look clueless and confused, aka most of the time.” Luckily, these forums are monitored and bigoted content typically disappears quickly. But often enough, you find discriminatory posts before moderators take them down. I was curious whether Andrew ever felt as if alcohol loosened students’ tongues to a point where the Frist Gallery became somewhat of a sounding board akin to Princeton’s anonymous digital platforms. Thankfully, Andrew feels that although Frist welcomes such a large concentration of inebriated students, Drunk Frist is not a hostile environment. “Downstairs [in the gallery] people say silly things, but I feel like it is never so blatantly homophobic or sexist or racist. It’s just about how much people love pizza …”
Inspired by Andrew’s anecdotes, I wanted to get the perspective of the building staff who often have to deal with rowdy students waiting for pizza or clean up bodily excretions. However, getting the perspective of Frist staff proved to be a challenge. I also spoke to Frist employees on conditions of anonymity, because I had approached a few employees at different times throughout the day, but each time a manager swiftly intercepted me and brusquely informed me that I could not speak to them without first talking to Dining Services. I tried to contact Dining Services, but my message was never returned. Therefore, I will call the first woman I spoke to Mary.
Our conversation occurred on a night early this year, ironically with many students in Frist in boxers for a theme-night. (Luckily no one seemed to be creating biohazards.) She interacts extensively with Drunk Frist. Mary was of the opinion that although Princeton students go too far with alcohol sometimes, she generally has fun dealing with Princeton students. She finds most to be charming, friendly, and funny, especially when they’re drunk. Even though the Frist Gallery can be raucous at times, Mary says her job is often a party.
I spoke to another pair of employees, also on the condition of anonymity, who do not typically work on Thursday or Saturday nights. I will call them Ann and Helen. They are generally positive about most Princeton students, though they highlight how there are a select few students who sometimes sully the staff’s opinions of the student body. It is clear that building staff do not enjoy having to clean up vomit and other waste from students, but it is reasonable to assert that this sort of disrespect to the building staff is due to a high degree of negligence on the part of drunk students, rather than a specific desire to insult staff by making them have to mop up vomit. But Ann recounted a scarring experience of clear malintent from a few years ago: a student, drunk in the middle of the day, came up to her and out of nowhere uttered, “You bitch…” He said it once under his breath, and spoke again, louder, “You bitch!”
“To this day, I don’t actually know what happened. All I know is all of a sudden what came out of his mouth was: you bitch. And he said it again. I smelled liquor on his breath…” After the incident, she began to cry. She was stunned and did not know how to respond in the face of such blatant verbal aggression from a student. She also feels that if she were to have engaged the student in conversation, she probably would have lost her job.
“Some of them are nice and some of them are really evil,” Ann says of the student body. Both Ann and Helen agree that as time has gone on, the students at Princeton have become more pleasant. Even when telling the story of the belligerent student verbally attacking her in the middle of the day, Ann, who has worked in Frist for a bit less than a decade, underlined that she believes students have become more respectful and amicable with staff as time has progressed. She was not sure what to attribute it to, but she conjectured that it may have to do with new ways that people are “being raised.” But the way she has described the years she has worked at the University made me think that Princeton’s gradually shifting demographic is responsible for the change. A 2011 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly outlined that from 2000 to 2010, the number of students attending the University with family incomes below the national median more than doubled from 7.7% to 15.6%. Perhaps increasing socioeconomic diversity among the student body has bred more conscientious undergraduates.
Helen, an immigrant from Latin America (country omitted for anonymity), recalled an instance in which she was speaking Spanish with another employee, and a bystander who was completely uninvolved in the conversation commanded her to promptly stop speaking Spanish. Helen is quite sure that the woman was not a student. She attributes the terse interjection to xenophobia and ethnocentric attitudes, and was glad that this kind of aggression did not come from a student. She says she normally feels comfortable with the student body, whom she normally respects and “really loves.” She believes that the Princeton student body is not racist, even if other people who frequent Frist may be more insensitive.
Helen is somewhat forgiving of the negative interactions she and her coworkers have occasionally experienced with students. In response to some of the ridiculous things that Princeton students do in Frist, Helen added, chuckling, “Well, I personally don’t want to remember any of the things that I did in my youth.”
Andrew, who spends a comparable of time working in Frist, occasionally clocking dozens of hours per week, dismisses some of the stigma around drunk students in Frist with a shrug: “Sometimes you just doze off, and sometimes you just steal pool balls, and sometimes, you just pee. There’s always people who are more belligerent and who yell and talk back to my boss. A downside to Drunk Princeton is that people are more aggressive when they’re drunk. But more often than not, people are enjoying themselves and just being a little bit on the crazy side.”
Ann and Helen both recount that in the face of students, drunk or not, they need to take the high road. Ann says that students “can be very ornery,” but that is generally the moment she feels she must “walk the other way.” I ask her if she often has to bite her tongue in the face of students, and she responds, “Yeah, and I have to do a lot of biting. I am not losing my job because someone wants to over-drink.” She adds that students can generally disrespect staff with impunity. Although Mary, Helen, and Andrew are mostly accepting of the behavior of the Princeton student body in Frist Campus Center, Ann holds the students with whom she interacts to a higher standard. Her underlying message for students is: “Stop drinking.” But maybe it is not just the alcohol she objects to. Perhaps the attitudes of the student body still have a long way to go. She emphasized that—whether it is by leaving trash around Frist, the tone of voice they employ, their vomit, urine, or catnaps in Frist bathrooms—students continue to send the message with their behavior that “they just don’t care” about those who are serving them.
This weekend, we are going to go out, stop by a few pre-games, meander to the Street. We will drink too much, dance badly, kiss someone we really shouldn’t, slip a few times. And then a select few of us will end up asleep in a toilet stall, stealing something, saying something brusque to someone serving us pizza—someone who hails from outside of our sphere, who each day crosses the grand chasm separating the real world from Princeton. And then we will leave trails of waste in Frist and the employees—most of whom are old enough to be our parents—will pick up after us until dawn rises over Lake Carnegie.