In April 2001, David Brooks published “The Organization Kid,” in which he typified Princeton students as absurdly busy with “self-improvement, résumé-building, and enrichment.” Brooks conceived of the whole process by which the students had become hard-working and career-oriented as organization, but this authoress’s significantly more extensive fieldwork reveals the even more interesting process of subjectification through which Organization Kids become fristified.
I spent my first few weeks at Princeton bonding with new lifelong friends and experiencing Princeton’s much-touted diversity (although the most significant adjustment I had to make here was to being in groups that were overwhelmingly white without worrying that I’d accidentally wandered into a meeting of the KKK). There was no organization in sight – everyone was too busy making friends and having fun to be bothered “working their laptops to the bone” – particularly with the multifaceted delights that were to be found at the Frist Campus Center: “free travel mugs,” pool, and multiple freshman week events featuring a human-sized tiger in the Frist basement.
At first this all seemed bizarre – the University was supposed to be providing an education, and maybe a little character development, and the tiger was, well, strange. Or so it seemed to the freshmen, who didn’t take it all in stride like their RAs and OA leaders. Hence we became acquainted with the process of “Fristification” whereby preciously intelligent, and one would hope, mature, adolescents, who had worked their butts off for the chance to study at the nation’s most elite university, began their four-year transformation into well-sculpted, well-mannered, well-organized pink-polo-porting people who have come to see the value of the Free T-shirt.
According to University documentation, it costs approximately $40,000 a year to educate each Princetonian. In return for these exorbitant fees, in large part provided by the parents of said Princetonians (as well as elder and deceased Princetonians who earned or inherited large amounts of money which they then gave to their alma mater in drunken fits of nostalgia), the University educates students by providing daytime activities known as “class”, usually in the form of “lectures, seminars, and precepts”, at which attendance seems to be unpopular if officially compulsory and which students sometimes make reference to after lunch with groans of fatigue and pre-emptive boredom.
The University also provides evening activities ranging from “study breaks” and “performances” to “the Street”. Events that serve alcohol or in which the use of other mood-altering substances and behaviors is accepted and expected see to be most popular, and although the dress code for females seems to be fairly flexible for “class” spanning ranging from pajamas to business casual, dress at “the Street” is fairly strict; wearing too many skin-covering garments is frowned upon. However, most of these activities are consistent with trends on other, less fristified campuses and do seem to provide an outlet for sexual and social frustration (and inhibition). What’s more, they provide entertainment that is actually desired by those participating, regardless of whether they are bribed with free apparel.
The University issues much literature implying that it would prefer that students remain on the main campus on weekend evenings rather than venturing into the less academically oriented “Street.” Hence, there is a rather well funded though unpopular movement with origins in West College known as “The Alcohol Initiative.” The “Alcohol Initiative” provides thousands of dollars to any students brave or un-cool enough to host social events that do not include alcohol as social lubricant, often substituting soft drinks and chocolate for oral stimulation. Such events are usually very expensive and rather unattended.
In an attempt to remedy this low attendance problem, the University has unleashed the Free T-Shirt. With the Free T-Shirt, RA study breaks, Alcohol Initiative Events, and other fundraising and sporting events attempt to draw participants (who are already under-slept and under-sexed because they “have no time”) away from their homework or other more enjoyable and hence rewarding social activities (be it “the Street” or “hanging out with friends”) to create the illusion that students do indeed enjoy such expensive and often aimless events that in the past have featured little else than calorie laden candies and mediocre DJ’s (though some students say that the quality of such events has drastically improved in the past year). Although the Free T-Shirt has made its mark – sometimes increasing attendance of events even by orders of magnitude – students are fighting back with their own symbolism.
Every February, the majority of second-year students spend a week or more playing board games, going through official interviews and/or testing the volume dimensions of their stomachs in order to socially segregate into various “Eating Clubs” and thereby earn the coveted club sweatshirt of their choice. It is not clear how directly this sweatshirt is seen as an exchange for the several thousands of dollars such students pay if they are successful in gaining admission to their desired club, but based on common knowledge about the usual cost of a sweatshirt compared to the cost of an “eating club,” it seems reasonable to believe that this particular sweatshirt has a relatively high value. Students also receive other benefits that come along with these sweatshirts, such as (they say) better food, drinks, and “members only” privileges, and it is true that more than one person has illicitly worn a sweatshirt without paying dues for the eating club. The authoress is not entirely sure how fully such practices are condoned.
Moreover, the authoress recognizes a significant waste of funding at the University, surprising at an institution that boasts such a famous economics department. Upperclassmen parents, funding the University and an eating club, are necessarily sending mixed signals – paying for anti-alcohol t-shirts on the one hand and on the other a sweatshirt for their child to wear which usually gives a good indication of just how much alcohol the wearer is capable of holding down. The authoress would recommend that in the future, parents decide what priority they have for their child and pay either for Princeton University or for their child’s eating club of choice, but not both, as membership in the two causes an ideological contradiction, not to mention unnecessary expenditure of thousands of dollars that could certainly be put to a better purpose, more Free T-Shirts.
The sheer mass of Free T-shirts and Not-So-Free Sweatshirts and other accessories that students acquire during their four year stint at the University is rather remarkable. Though consumption of such goods seems to peak at the second year when the student’s Princeton wardrobe may reach critical mass through apparel from student organizations, attendance of different more or less unpopular events, and gifts from authoritative institutions like residential colleges, eating clubs, RAs, and class officers, the phenomenon is present in all members of the student body. Indeed, there is no way to tell the year, gender, or sexual orientation of a student sporting bright orange sweatpants and a black hooded sweatshirt over a “Duck Fartmouth” T-shirt – only that s/he is guilty of extremely dangerous fashion taste, because as soon as s/he steps foot off the Princeton campus s/he may be accosted by parents of ambitious high school students inquiring about SAT scores and extracurricular activities.
While sufficient fieldwork has not yet been conducted to reach any definitive conclusions about the process of fristification, the authoress believes that this process is intrinsically linked to the abundance of free and extremely expensive University apparel that ranges in price from an hour attending an Alcohol Initiative event to a week to ten interviews of “bickering” an eating club in addition to several thousand dollars for membership. Moreover, the authoress believes that her fieldwork findings may lay the grounds for explaining her own unpopularity as a function of her glaring lack of an orange thong and matching sweatpants.