God and Government: The Aesthetics of Princeton Part XXIII

In the final weeks of the school year, the University opened the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall to seniors as part of the “Last Lecture” series. I wasn’t a senior, but I went in anyways. Usually, the doors to this pristine room are closed during the entire year.

Nassau Hall may encompass the soul of Princeton, but the Faculty Room is its heart. As I walked in, I immediately noticed the portraits that lined the walls. Each University president has a portrait hanging on the northern, eastern, or western wall. Paintings of important colonial figures — like King George II and George Washington — are on the southern wall. A large wooden table sits in the middle of the room with equally long elevated benches on both sides. It is modeled after the British House of Commons. In the back, a large chair — the president’s throne — is seated behind a scepter. A golden chandelier illuminates the brilliant white ceiling and majestic mahogany-colored wooden walls.

The Faculty Room was part of the original building of Nassau Hall, though it was only one third of its present size. During the American Revolution, it was hit by a cannon ball that came from a company under the command of Alexander Hamilton while the British were taking refuge within the building in January 1777. Hamilton had been rejected from Princeton and later went to King’s College, which eventually became Columbia University.

Princeton became the capital of the country in 1783 when a mutiny by the Continental Army forced the country’s congress to leave Philadelphia. The congress met in the Faculty Room. A century later, the room had been expanded, so the geosciences department created a natural history museum in it. Today, the Faculty Room is used for meetings of the Board of Trustees and other special events.

Several days later, an article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly prompted me to go on a scavenger hunt for the “Dante Room” in East Pyne.

After walking in on three different study groups, I finally found the East Pyne 111 empty on a late Wednesday night. A plaque tells how Professor Robert Hollander taught Dante’s works in the room for 35 years.

Beautiful rectangular dark wood panels adorn the entire room. A dim light gives the polishing the illusion of glowing. Two metal-framed windows serve as tiny dungeon windows to the outside world. It is easy to see how someone can go mad while thinking about the inferno in this room.

There are still a number of interesting spaces like these — each with their own histories — that dot Princeton’s campus.

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Weeks in Review 5/8-28/17

The final few weeks of a Princeton semester feel like a mad rush to the finish line. I usually walk to the Princeton Theological Seminary’s library, turn off all electronics, hide my watch, and spend countless hours studying. It’s so quiet in there that the only sound is the hum of electricity. Despite this self-exile into hermitism, I found a few opportunities to go to some events.

Monday— The Faculty Room of  Nassau Hall was open to students as part of a “last lecture” series for seniors. I listened to a historian and University vice president talk about the school’s establishment and history during colonial times. There is still a visible dent in the side of Nassau Hall from when the Americans shot a cannon at it as the British troops took refuge inside.

My FRS class went to dinner at Nassau Sushi in the evening. The fried pork belly was good.

Tuesday— Former Secretary of State James Baker ’52 gave a lecture for the Princeton Environmental Institute on a conservative proposal for addressing climate change. He outlined a four point plan that he had developed with former Secretaries of State George Shultz ’42 and Treasury Hank Paulson.

Thirty minutes later, I watched a lecture by world renowned writer Salman Rushdie. The lecture hall — Princeton’s largest room — was packed. He has written extensively in his satirical books about the dictatorships in Muslim countries and even has a fatwa on his head from the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran for his book Satanic Verses. In his lecture, he talked about the importance of exposing the truth despite tyrannical governments that want to contain it. His entire talk was laced with ironic humor as he drew comparisons between the Trump administration and his observations of Muslim dictatorships.

Wednesday— The first of my four articles on alcohol use in college was published in the Daily Princetonian. Compared to my other articles, these received a lot of feedback in the form of e-mails and online comments. I think that the responses to them show exactly where we’re at in terms of enforcing alcohol laws in colleges: parents and health officials praised them, alumni and current students attacked them, and the school was strangely silent.

One commenter, a parent, said, “‘I’ve been following your series of articles on this topic — I read #1, then #3, and am just now reading this, #2. As soon as I saw the title I thought “my God, this kid is either fearless or crazy or both.”

My second article drew criticism from at least a dozen female students online. A friend later told me that one went on a Facebook rant about how I’m a terrible human being despite the fact that we have never met in person.

Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4

I started on this topic by writing an unbiased investigative article that shows how the University and eating clubs enforce — or rather ignore — alcohol laws. My editor said that I could not contribute a news article to the Daily Princetonian. It violated the separation between news and opinion. While I did not like this decision, I understand that the rule prevents Breitbart-like articles that pass off opinion as news. My original article will be published this fall in a different outlet.

Friday— A Cinco de Mayo party held by the hockey team sparked outrage with the Princeton Latinos y Amigos. It restarted debate about whether it is permissible for students to hold ethnically-themed parties. Several days later, a Mexican student wrote a letter saying that he was not offended by the party. His response was promptly swept under the rug by campus activists.

Saturday— I went to a concert at Richardson auditorium. It featured Princeton’s student jazz band, which is quite good. The program director even joined the band with a few saxophone solos. He was an outstanding musician.

Sunday— In the morning, I went to Hopewell, New Jersey to help the D&R Greenway with their trail work. Word about the trail work has spread to other groups, so I took some members of a fraternity along with me.

Monday— As with the last semester, I joined the Princeton University Band to play in the libraries on Dean’s Date Eve. Everyone seemed to be appreciative of the break that it gave them from their late night Red Bull-fueled studying.

Later that evening, I went to Holder courtyard to watch the Holder Howl: a biannual event where students scream in pain from their Dean’s Date assignments at midnight. It had many more students in attendance than the Whitman Wail. Next semester I will go to the Wilson Whimper.

Monday— I was invited to the Quadrangle Club for dinner. The interior of the building looked like that of any other generic clubhouse with high ceilings, carpeted stairs, and a gallery dining room. My expectations for the food were high, but it fell short of its mark. Most of it was on par or below dining hall food.

Wednesday— Whitman College has experienced a strange set of fire alarms recently. On the morning of Lawnparties, one sounded off around 11:00 AM just as I was returning from my weekly Forbes brunch. Several others had occurred in the afternoon since then. Around midnight — a couple hours after I had gone to bed — another alarm rang through the gothic dorms. I marched outside to wait in the cold for ten minutes while the staff tried to turn it off. Which drunk student couldn’t cook dinner this time?

Thursday— A consultant for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration read my articles on alcohol use and recommended that I watch a webinar on how colleges can improve their substance abuse programs. The webinar confirmed my previous findings from other experts that a combination of enforcement, education, and alternative programming is the best solution to this problem.

Friday— Both of my exams were scheduled for the same day. My calculus exam was in the morning while physics was in the evening. Princeton math exams are much more difficult than those of the Advanced Placement program in high school.

The end of the school year is finally approaching. Even though I am ready for the semester to end, it does not feel like an entire school year has passed.

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Lawnparties Round 2: Social Life at Princeton Part VII

The second time around at Lawnparties was no different than the first. At their finest, Lawnparties are, to borrow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words, an, “orgy of sociability.”

For upperclassmen, the fun begins on Friday and Saturday night when the eating clubs hold houseparties. Some have semiformal dances followed by formals the next night. Like most other social events with the eating clubs, it involves a lot of drinking from what I can deduce. This year, the administration invited comedian Hasan Minhaj to perform during the 9:00 pm-11:00 pm timeframe for the sole purpose of keeping people from drinking.

But everything culminates in the pièce de résistance that is Lawnparties on Sunday. Students wake up at 7:00 am and start pre-gaming — meaning they go to a party and drink hard alcohol to get drunk fast — with their friends. Then, they trickle over to the Woodrow Wilson School to get pictures in front of Robertson Hall, the fountain, or Prospect Gardens.

Afterwards, students walk — or stumble for those who are intoxicated — around Prospect Avenue as they hop from club to club. Each eating club has its own band. There is nowhere else in the world where you can hear a rapper say, “Princeton! Take your middle finger and shove it up your anus. It’s freedom of expression” to a bunch of people dressed in Vineyard Vines. How wonderful. Most of the students listening were probably too drunk to even understand or remember. At the end of the afternoon Jeremih performed in Quadrangle’s back yard at 3:00 pm as the main act.

To fit in with the crowd, Yours Truly donned khakis, a blue shirt, and a blazer. When I arrived around 1:00 pm, I encountered a sea of pastel pinks, whites, blues, and greens. Since it was a bit cooler than in the fall, there were fewer eye-catching outfits. I posed for a few group pictures with the debate team and then walked around with some friends. There were a bunch of food trucks. All of them were free, so I loaded up. Campus Club also had free pizza, lemonade, and Rita’s water ice. I was stuffed by the end of the day. It began to rain around 3:00 pm, so I didn’t stay for Jeremih.

Instead, I walked around campus. Eventually, I read a book on American history in one of Chancellor Green’s comfy chairs until somebody kicked me out.

For many students, Lawnparties is the pinnacle of social life. Classes have either just ended or are yet to begin, so they indulge in decadence during three days of revelry. For me, it’s just another day at Princeton.

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Weeks in Review 4/17-5/6/17

These past few weeks have been a crunch. Every class seemed to have a quiz or major assignment due. In spite of the busy schedule, I took some time to attend a few interesting events.

Tuesday (4/18)— Whitman College hosted another roundtable luncheon with President Eisgruber. Much of the discussions centered around the freedom of speech. President Eisgruber (correctly) defended students’ rights to voice controversial and unpopular opinions on campus. Most, but not all, of the students seemed to agree with this. At the end, he told us about the new names for West College and Robertson Hall’s auditorium 15 minutes before they were publicly announced. Before leaving he said, “sorry to those of you who wanted it named Cornel West College.”

In the afternoon, I went to a lecture titled “The Degradation of Traditional American Values” by former Senator Rick Santorum. No sweater vest this time. I was quite surprised that the room was packed. Although I didn’t agree with most of what he said, it was a fascinating talk. Santorum speaks like a preacher. But he had one line where I thought he was absolutely right:

“You [the top 20% of income earners] are going to practice what you don’t preach. You overwhelmingly are going to be married and in stable relationships. You overwhelmingly are not going to have children out of wedlock. You overwhelmingly are going to go to church…And you look the same as the group coming out of here 40 years ago…All of the sociological factors have not changed. Why? Because it works and you’re not stupid.”

Students at Princeton talk as if all of these issues aren’t important, and that people are free to do whatever they want. But I am certain that the vast majority will follow the same general path that Santorum outlines. This is part of an ongoing debate that was sparked by alumnae Susan Patton in 2013.

Afterwards, I went to a training session where some of the dining staff taught us manners for business dinners. The food was excellent!

Friday— Princeton Preview is an event where the University invites admitted high schoolers to spend a night a Princeton. Each one stays in the dorm with a current student. I met up with a CR admittee the previous night and then picked up student from Indiana. He was choosing between Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and MIT. I gave Princeton the best possible pitch, but I later found out that he picked the HVAC school down the street from Cambridge Community College (those are our nicknames for MIT and Harvard, respectively).

In the evening, I went to a Whig-Clio debate on “selling out.” This is a term used at Princeton to denote seniors who work in consulting. Usually they are studying politics, engineering, or some other subject and go to Wall Street because of the lucrative starting salaries (+$100,000 per year). There are tons of firms that descend on the campus every year to recruit students. Quite frankly, they don’t care what your grade is as long as you have an Ivy League degree. It is a very hot subject at Princeton. While I don’t have anything against people who work for the banks, I voted against selling out. For the first time in almost a year, the Clios won.

Wednesday— I woke up to a strange sight in the morning. When I went into the bathroom, there was a guy walking into the shower. He was covered in oatmeal. The room smelled like rotten milk. I have no idea what was going on with him.

Thursday— I went to the graduate school for dinner. They had nachos.

I didn’t have to host a student for the second Princeton Preview, but I went to the Whig-Clio debate for it anyways. This was about punishing private speech. Originally, the argument focused on the recent punishments for the Harvard men’s soccer team, Princeton men’s diving team, and Columbia men’s wrestling team. Then, the conversation diverted to other topics. We weren’t really sure what we were debating because the topic was very open. Ultimately, I decided to err on the side of free speech and voted with the Clios. The Whigs overwhelmingly won.

While I was walking back to my dorm near midnight, I ran into an arch sing near Blair Arch. Several acapella groups were trading off to sing late into the night.

Friday— Martin Shkreli was invited to campus by the Princeton Corporate Finance Club. I know that I wrote against him in The Daily Princetonian, but I decided to listen anyways. Shkreli can’t give a coherent lecture. He began by giving everyone a logic problem and promised to pay all of the college expenses for the first person who solved it. I doubt that anyone did. Then he talked about the chemistry of drugs and how they are priced. Throughout it all, he maintained that he was not guilty, and that everyone was out to get him. I don’t believe it. There’s something slimy about him.

Sunday— A bunch of Texans had a party in the Whitman Courtyard. I never thought that I would see a bunch of cowboy hats and boots at Princeton.

Monday— The infamous fences have returned to Princeton. They go up in the spring of every year in preparation for alumni Reunions. New Jersey alcohol laws require that establishments serve alcohol indoors. To meet this requirement, Princeton puts up a bunch of fences and tents over the course of a month.

I competed in the Rusher Debate that is part of the Woodrow Wilson Honorary Debate Panel. Going in, I knew that I would not win but chose to do so anyways to gain experience.

Next, I went to a James Madison Program concert that featured Professor Robert George as a singer for his college bluegrass band.

Wednesday— I finished my Outdoor Action training.

Thursday— Whig-Clio has an annual tradition where senior members are roasted by classmates during a dinner where everyone eats Chinese food. It was pretty funny to hear a bunch of jokes about the next class of high level politicos.

Friday— I watched Hasan Minhaj do a comedy routine in Richardson Auditorium. Minhaj hosted the recent White House Correspondents Dinner. He read a bit from two alternate scripts that he had prepared in case the President or Ben Carson had decided to attend.

Only three weeks left, and then I will go to the Bahamas!

Voting Record

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