On the idyllic Great Gatsby-esque campus that is Princeton, there exists a small microcosm of societal interactions and tensions. Although certainly not a true representation of the outside world, with its relatively limited spectrum of classes and backgrounds, the University still possesses its share of politically incorrect issues. In the age of schools and employers striving hardest to achieve ideological, ethnic, and religious harmony, diversity has become the new catch phrase. With schools flaunting statistics of minority enrollment, an important question begs to be asked. With our growing hub of several types of differences, has Princeton society truly become an integrated paradise or several islands co-existing on one campus? There seem to be shadows lurking around the gorgeous picture of pastels, luxury, and gaiety; everyone’s going to the ball, but are they walking together?
“I think most people would like to see more intercultural and multicultural interaction on campus than is currently evident,” says Janet Dickerson, Vice President of Campus Life. Dickerson mentioned administration-run initiatives, such as randomized housing and residential education programs, that aim to achieve intercultural interactions, though their effectiveness on the student’s daily life is uncertain.
“Over my years here, I’ve come to realize that there are expectations of who you’re going to date, who your friends are going to be, which clubs you’re going to go to,” says Camille Coates ’06. She stressed that a student’s extracurricular activities are nearly pre-determined by one’s ideological, ethnic, or religious identity.
But is it a matter of group segmentation on campus or merely a celebration of our differences? To aid in answering this question, instead of offering one dollar per hour for student surveys at Green Hall, I turned to an even more telling representation of Princeton societal interactions: Thefacebook.com. This online flipbook of student profiles is an astoundingly widespread trend and has recently added the new feature of allowing the registration of student groups’ profiles. Quite the handy tool, this feature allows students to start a virtual group, whether or nor it actually has a campus existence, in order to unite students of a particular characteristic or interest.
Another feature of the site shows the connections between groups, that is, if a great number of students in one online association belong to another. For example, if there were a “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” group, there would likely be a connection shown between it and a “Conscientious Vegetarians” group, rather than one called “Mink Fur Lovers.” Naturally, there are typical profiles of clubs, teams, and Greek organizations on campus, but it becomes more interesting when one delves a bit deeper.
Highlighting the ever-constant ideological divide, members of the “College Democrats” group are often also in the groups “I Went to a Public School . . .Bitch” and “People Against Popped Collars.” One might deduce that a majority of liberals not only hail from America’s fine public school system, but also detest the stereotypical, yet still embraced emblem of the privileged, preppy lifestyle. On the opposite side, “The College Republicans” (which, unlike most other groups, a student cannot just join, but must first request to join – presumably so they can make sure you are a true conservative) claims members of the “The Princeton Tory” and the “Princeton Southerners.” One might deduce that students from southern states are mainly conservative ideologues who seek approval of their conservative-ness.
A group named the “Jew Crew,” a number of whose members are also in the “College Democrats,” also includes many students in the “Borat Guide to U.S. and A.” Not knowing what this guide was, I attempted to look it up and, after reading some about it, still don’t know quite what it is. However, the Jews are not alone. The “Center for Asian Life,” the “largest, most powerful” union of different Asians, along with ”Half-Asians at Princeton,” is reversing the notion of racial profiling. Tthe “White Cultural Appreciation Group and Dance Troupe,” with its absurdly ironic picture of Eminem as its logo co-exists with “L.P.N.,” the Latin People’s Network. The latter makes sure to keep group bloodlines pure by posting its profile in espanol.
But what’s wrong with such groups? Connecting to those similar to oneself is simply natural and comfortable. “It is understandable that students will, on some social and celebratory occasions, want to enjoy the comfort of a community that shares family expectations, history, traditions, and values,” Dickerson adds. Yet the problem exists as long as different groups are remaining segmented and not seeking the value of interacting with each other on more than a nominal basis. Or facebook-wise, as long as the “Princeton Tory” continues to keep its distance from the “Black Student Union.”
It is vital to seek out “people who will shake the ground under you,” Coates says, and to have “the realization of needing to take a step, whether going to CJL, a Pride Alliance meeting, Ivy, or a Black Student Union meeting.”
The essential dialogue on bridging the ideological, ethnic, and religious gaps in campus society must be elevated to a higher priority. For like the unmentionable, nameless societal tensions in Gatsby, this University’s problem divides will not continue to remain underneath the surface for long.