Open letter to Princeton University Protesters

Dear Princeton Student Protesters:

     I hear congratulations are in order.  They’re not coming from me, but a part of me respects what you did.  Another part does not.  But I’m not here to hate.  I write about escapist entertainment on this little blog, after all, and try my best to avoid politics and social commentary.   I just have a word of caution … and encouragement (of a kind).

      Take what I have to say with a grain of salt, since I’m not the best alumnus out there, nor was I the greatest student.  I didn’t take an interest in campus news or events when I was a student and still don’t, really.  Almost all of the orange and black I now own was bought by my wife. I think I owned maybe one or two Princeton shirts by the time I graduated, and that they were given to me by Outdoor Action. I never went to a football game. I didn’t like Prospect Street then and have since forgotten the names of most of the clubs. If someone held a gun to my head and asked me to sing the words to Old Nassau, I’d probably get it confused with Auld Lang Syne.  Oh, and I have made it a consistent point to recycle the annual giving letters that come in the mail.

     Point being, despite these issues then and now, I look back and realize I had a good four years there. Make no mistake, the social scene left a lot to be desired, and I basically fit into none of it.  There was, of course, elitism, racism, sexism, and a lot of other unfair stuff.  But my friends and I did the best we could with the time we were given while trying to keep our heads above water enough to graduate.  Then, things got easier in some ways, harder in many others.  And I slowly came to realize that all those “-isms” that irritated me at Princeton were not much different from the “-isms” I found when I got out and looked around.  Life is – as a black-leather-pantsed David Bowie said to a young Jennifer Connelly in the movie, Labyrinth – unfair.  Everyone learns about that bitter pill in elementary school, but … it never does get easier to take.

     So when I heard about your protests on campus to get the administration to acknowledge that former US President Woodrow Wilson was a racist, that staff needs cultural competency training, and black students must have their own space on campus, I got where you were coming from and why you were passionate for change.

     But let me say this.  You can do better. You are capable of so much better.   You got into Princeton, after all, and though family, teachers, and friends helped you get there, you were the ones taking the tests, doing the interviews, and filling out the applications that made it all happen.  Do yourself and those folks in your corner justice while you’re a student so you can do something worthwhile with what you learned once you leave.  The fight is out there.  There’s a big, bad world, as some of you already know well, and you’ll need your energy for whatever challenges you’ll face, day-in, day-out.  There’s no graduation to the rest of life.  Don’t let your finest hour be fighting the Man to get your own space on campus.

     It’s kind of like punching the ref before the match even starts.  The University isn’t the enemy.  They have their issues, to be fair, but as much as they enjoy your 60K/yr (or whatever astronomical sum it is now), they ultimately want you to finish and look back on the experience fondly.  Because then, of course, you might come back, give them money, or maybe even send your kids there.  And that’s part of the reason they’re giving in now.

     So, if you want to rebel against Mom and Dad, fair.  But just remember what you are asking for, and that there are consequences now that are a bit more far reaching in adulthood than liberating the family car for the night or smoking a blunt in the bathroom.  Asking for safety from prejudice and judgement is one thing.  Asking for voluntary segregation is another.  It’s a free country, and you can do what you want, but remember that the Civil Rights Movement and the philosophies that stemmed from it were hard won battles in a war that’ll probably never really be over.  Maybe I’m just jaded, but it’s really hard to get people to coexist without them wanting to kill each other eventually.  Look at all the issues we have in this country – in this world – because groups of people can’t get along.  That’s why humanity needs your help, your continued, daily help, because there are some things Mom and Dad can’t fix, and no amount of demanding will make things right.  That’s not their job anymore.  That’s yours, since you are the future.

     So although I don’t agree with the President’s decision to have made these concessions, I’m not in your shoes, nor his, and what’s done is done.  Now they have to be carried out.  If you really, really feel strongly that the these concessions will make daily life at Princeton better for you, then be prepared to do the leg work to make these things a reality.  If it really means that much to you, then you will find a way to goad the administration along over the next months and (likely) years needed to fully implement these changes (for institutions, as I’m sure you know, change slowly).

     And, if instead – just by coincidence, hypothetically speaking – you decide that your time is better spent working on your senior thesis, applying to graduate school, trying to find a job, or doing any number of things necessary to get on with your life …   That’s okay, too.  To paraphrase something Mr. Miyagi said to Daniel in Karate Kid III – “Daniel-san!  Best karate still inside!”  Best karate, indeed.


     Joshua Blum, ’02

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