Column | Feb. 20

Class or crass?

When Princeton students try to show their school spirit to non-Princeton students, it seems the line between engaging in genuine school appreciation and inter-university comparisons isn’t always clear. School appreciation isn’t reliant on what another university has — it is more centered on liking Princeton for Princeton’s sake, while inter-university comparisons often seem to make reference to Princeton being better than other institutions.

For some of us, appreciation for and pride in our institution started the moment we ripped open the envelopes to our admission acceptance letters. For others, it could go back as far as past generations — to parents and grandparents who in their earlier years also proudly donned the orange and black. Inter-university comparisons, however, don’t always carry that same purity in its symbolism. They don’t carry that feeling of connection to a group of exceptional students that extends beyond our class year. While inter-university comparison and competition certainly has its place in athletics (after all, we do need a little rah-rah at football games), it shouldn’t change the way we view our university or the way we represent it to others.

After the Harvard Crimson published a story around early December 2013 on the persistence of grade inflation at Harvard, many non-university-based news organizations followed suit, including CNN, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. After all of the attention it gathered, students of other Ivy League institutions also began to take an interest in these stories on Harvard and to participate in the debate through social media. However, this “debating” wasn’t always the type of debate we would expect from Princeton students; it often devolved into petty insults and harsh remarks. Could it be that we’ve gone too far with the social network jibes — to the point of disparaging Harvard’s students who had no influence over their university’s grading system and could only do their best to excel despite what their system arbitrated? I can understand the indignation of Princeton students who have been subjected to grade deflation. On the other hand, does that really justify bad-mouthing or making condescending remarks in Facebook statuses and tweets for everyone to see? At some point, these remarks no longer seem to only express an opinion about another institution’s method of assessing its students’ quality of work. They seem like a somewhat childish and unprofessional attempt of elevating one’s university above another.

In his Nov. 24, 2013 article, “Before Princeton bonfires, a debate over effigies and political correctness,” Andrew Steele discusses the decision not to burn an effigy of John Harvard or a Yale bulldog in celebration of the Princeton football team’s victory. Steele writes, “Olivia Adechi ’16 said … the bonfire has the potential to create school spirit and solidarity but that burning effigies is not appropriate. … ‘You can’t find an intellectual or justifiable explanation behind it.’ ” Reanalyzing the validity of past practices and redefining how far we’re willing to let our inter-school competitiveness go shouldn’t be limited to sports.

Consider that one day we will graduate and Princeton won’t be our entire world. We’ll be thrown into the workplace, most likely along with our peers from universities such as Harvard and Yale. When this happens, I certainly hope we’re humble and respectful enough to accept and appreciate our colleagues as well as the new ideas they will bring to the table. Our lives do not stop at whatever institution we’re enrolled in or whatever team we find ourselves currently rooting for. So whenever students makes what they think are clever comments about another institution, I wonder what it would feel like if they said those comments to a coworker or collaborator who came from that institution, twenty years from now. Would we still find that behavior appropriate?

When we become a part of an institution — whether it is a student organization, a university or a workplace — we essentially represent the “face” of that institution. And in this case, it’s Princeton we’re representing. It seems most college students have a real knack for screening what pictures they post on Facebook in case job interviewers ever stumble upon their profiles. Instead of just monitoring how we’re represented in the cyber-world or real world, we should also check our behaviors as we represent our universities. This might even mean skipping out on the opportunity to make a comment that someday might not seem so innocent or clever.

Isabella Gomes is a sophomore from Irvine, Calif. She can be reached at igomes@princeton.edu.

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