Random, impromptu pop music blares from the sound system as the 2015 Clash of the Colleges commences: an unnamed administrator with a mic attempts to pump up a crowd of dazed freshmen; above, President Tilghman and co. look on as members of the Class of 2015 are hurled into an odd set of challenges, receiving points based on some unspoken metric; students follow up their feats with a set of “spirited” residential college-related chants; RCAs and college council members, adorned with war paint and the like, cheer on their newly arrived hall mates.
To quote the official Princeton twitter page, the event is a “wild, fun time!” In the eyes of the university, these students are now brothers (or sisters)-in-residence, sharing what the administration hopes will become a patriotic love for their respective residential colleges; but in the eyes of this freshman, the bond is all but arbitrary. Standing in Dillon Gym, I can’t help but feel that Princeton is trying to convince me (read: deceive) that I love my residential college; that I should love my residential college; that it’s a central part of who I am as a Princeton student.
In fact, thus far, the school seems to have done a pretty thorough job of convincing freshmen that the residential college is central, even up to the point that “Which residential college are you in?” has emerged as a staple of awkward freshmen interactions, usually occurring after questions such as “Where are you from?” and “What’s your name?”
By many upperclassmen accounts, the university’s emphasis on residential college life this year is a marked difference from the past, e.g. through the creation of Clash of the Colleges, the mass distribution of residential college apparel, etc. As an incoming freshmen, I never expected it to matter much where I was placed by Princeton’s Sorting Hat and, to me, these attempts at altering the residential college’s role are fabricated and synthetic: when freshmen ask me what residential college I was assigned to, I’m overtaken by indifference. Perhaps I’m a bit impersonal, but I see no genuine reason to feel a sense of affection for my dorm, apart from enjoying its cleanliness, facilities, and location.
And I certainly don’t see my college as a viable long-term social magnet: this new focus is, I presume, tied in to the upcoming abolition of freshmen rush for Greek Life, suggesting that this is the beginning of the school’s vision for a new social system in which the residential college reigns supreme. Yet I can’t escape the feeling that this model is both overly idealistic and utterly nonsensical.
Speaking to the first point: the gap between meeting people and making friends is immense—and the difference is glaringly obvious to any freshman after a few weeks. Yes, in your first few days at school you may find a few pleasant acquaintances in your residential college; but true friendship doesn’t evolve this way, through the occasional dining hall-and-bathroom run-ins—no, true friendship requires a great deal more, through experiences that happen far away from the Whitman Common Room or (even farther away from) the Forbes Dining Hall. I will admit that I came to Princeton believing that friendships would come about easily and naturally; only later did I realize how much more to it there is—how much more is required that the residential college system can’t offer.
And to the second: there’s a farcical absurdity to hoping that a fulfilling social experience should come about through randomness, i.e. by arbitrarily ending up in a Hall A instead of Hall B. In other words, depending on one’s residential college to act as the center of his/her social life is analogous to depending on chance proximity; this can’t be a legitimate policy.
As a freshman who has run through the system and come out little better, I’ve realized that an uncomfortable reliance on the residential college system can’t be the future of the Princeton experience; if an even greater emphasis is the school’s response vision for the future, it needs correcting. To quote the American author George Curtis, “A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” The same passionate reasoning does not translate to one’s residential college: Mathey is, in fact, a certain area of dorms and facilities, as are Rockefeller, Whitman, Butler, Wilson, and Forbes; to ask more of them is to ask in vain.