Recently, the Daily Princetonian reported that a senior had been arrested for possession of marijuana and prescription drugs. In the article, the arrested student was named, meaning that his legal troubles are now fully Google-able.
The student also happened to be on the swim team. Many of his teammates (and possibly—not probably—some concerned students and parents) took to the comments section to attack the article, writing that “it is extremely unethical to publish the student’s name without his knowledge.” Another fumed that the Prince editors were “ruining [their] classmates’ reputations.” The comments section is filled with responses like these, written by those who were angry that a student’s name will now be forever linked with marijuana, which they view as fatal, in terms of general career and life prospects.
However, a small number of users bemoaned the fact that a student would even get arrested for marijuana in the first place. These comments ranged from dismissive (“why on earth is this news?”) to sympathetic (“this is an unfortunate circumstance for a classmate that could have happened to many, many people on campus”). But they all reflect a growing acceptance of weed and weed culture—if not on campus specifically, then at least among 20-somethings as a whole.
These two attitudes did not clash much in the comments section, which is, after all, not the most effective forum for debate and discussion. But, tellingly, the top comment reflected the divergent attitudes on campus towards the various weekend vices: “Anyone else think it’s funny that Princeton condones underage binge drinking, and freaks out when they find a bit of weed?”
At Princeton, as at other schools, social life (at least for those students who define “social life” as “going out”) revolves almost entirely around alcohol. A typical night includes a pregame, perhaps in your hall, and then maybe another pregame in a different hall, and then stops at a couple of eating clubs (including, of course, their beer taps), and then maybe a stop at Terrace or someone else’s dorm before going to sleep. That is a typical night. An atypical night would include weed.
As the night goes on, there is an increasing sense that some students are not-so-secretly looking to smoke. They’ll usually be drawn to Terrace, perhaps on false pretenses, where they’ll peek their heads into doorways to check for signs of pot. If they find it, they might approach whoever is smoking, attempting to join in nonchalantly. Or, if this option scares them, and they get desperate, perhaps they’ll ask their friends, as everyone is preparing to leave, “does anyone have any weed?”
But it is only at these late hours that people are brave and/or drunk enough to bare their secret desire to smoke. In the daylight hours, that kind of thing tends to garner some disapproval. Part of this is the fact that weed (and smokers) lend themselves to stereotypes; weed always has and always will be associated with lethargy, indolence, gluttony, and foolishness. Some people are willing to venture past these stereotypes; others are not.
At Princeton, most students fall towards the latter. This doesn’t mean that they’ll hate you for smoking—simply that, if offered, they’ll decline (citing their lungs, their drunkenness, their sleepiness). At other colleges, I’ve been told, this is not the case. There are stronger tendencies towards weed in their social lives. On some campuses, it even dominates the drinking culture—think Brown.
The obvious differences between it and Princeton lie in their cultures: Brown is, as its reputation goes, politically active, liberal, and laid-back (handing out Pass/Fail options for anyone who wants them); Princeton is politically apathetic, more conservative, and always high octane (“work hard, play hard” as the students put it). This is not to say that Brown’s culture (or that of any other school) is perfect, or even necessarily better than Princeton’s. They’re not. But they are different, and it is worth noting the difference. After all, the difference runs deeper than the stereotypes. Alcohol’s dominance on campus is a symptom of the culture, not the cause of it.
Princeton is, in many ways, the product of country club culture. Lawnparties endorses (even as it satirizes) this relationship. The comparison is inevitable: both are viewed as havens of privilege and exclusivity, where old money comes to play. And eating clubs resemble (and emulate) country clubs, as much in their implicit endorsement of a social hierarchy as in the design of their houses.
Of course Brown, like all the other rich, northeastern schools, is also a place of exclusivity and privilege. But, if the stereotypes are even remotely true, then we are a place that does not shy away from this, but rather embraces it—look no further than our system of passes and lists. Our country club-style exclusivity has implications for our social lives on campus. Like clubmembers, we do our drinking in public—they on the concrete of the pool deck, we on the concrete of the club floor. If we smoke, we do it in private or seclusion, and we don’t tell other members, lest it offend their sensibilities.
In an age where marijuana legalization seems like a certainty, rather than a smoke-induced fantasy, Princeton still remains oddly resilient to its charms. The reason for this is unclear—our culture is rooted in the country club lifestyle, but cultures do change. And why shouldn’t ours?
Shortly after the Prince article was published, the Board of the Prince published an editorial suggesting that “the University…modify its current policy and lower the level of punishment for marijuana to that of alcohol violations.” While this advice does have its problems (the editorial itself acknowledges that “marijuana is illegal to all and alcohol only to those below age”), it is perhaps more useful as an indicator that (some) students want to change the campus culture.
There was also a dissent published in the same editorial, in which some members of the Board advocate making “alcohol infractions more serious than those for marijuana.” So perhaps it would be going too far to say that the school is demanding a change. This is fine. This is good. We may merely want to accept Brown, not become it.
There is an article somewhere, I’m sure, that discusses the relative safety of marijuana use as compared to drinking, and the tax benefits we would see from legalization, and the reasons that we should all start smoking—but this is not that article.
Maybe the student shouldn’t have been arrested. Maybe there shouldn’t have to be such a concern that associating his name with marijuana will bar him from any and all future jobs. Maybe the administrators should just chill.
But even if marijuana is not the antidote to the problems of the eating club system, it may ease the pain. The culture is, in many ways, an opposite of country club culture: it is not exclusive, it is not classy (or at least less so than sipping cocktails; it’s infinitely more classy than puking), and it is decidedly not part of the “work hard, play hard” ethos. And although it is not a substitute for a lively culture of activism and involvement, it could certainly help create one.
Alcohol leads almost invariably to interiority, a withdrawal from the world around us. As we drink, we become more social, but less interested in what others have to say; we become more talkative, but less able to say anything interesting. Eventually, we lose interest in talking, and later moving at all. And if we have drunk too much then we pass out, unable to take part in the world any longer.
Weed, on the other hand, is all about community. It promotes creativity, discussion, and an appreciation for life (or, at least it does when used in moderation). Even the way it’s consumed is more social than alcohol: rather than focusing solely on how much you’ve had to drink, you sit in a circle with friends and share a bowl. Of course there are problems with weed—there are problems with everything, including alcohol.
But there is a certain value in having options (assuming that, as science suggests, the option of smoking is not significantly harmful). For all those nights where going to the street seems difficult, or depressing, or—perhaps worst of all—boring, there is a need to find something to do that doesn’t entail seeing “Thor” at the Garden.
There have been no new posts in the comments section of the Prince article recently. It remains to be seen whether the student will be fined or imprisoned for possession. The country club tone of contempt (towards weed culture, towards police action, towards the Prince article’s author) remains ingrained in our culture. The campus remains buzzing, and the eating clubs’ taps run through the night, and heads keep peering through doorways, hoping to find something elusive.