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A letter from an alumnus about kismet at P.U.

December 24, 2001

I found fascinating the article by Kathryn Feldman ’72 regarding the 2001 Oscar-winning documentary Into the Arms of Strangers and how, in a story of kismet, two Princetonians' intergenerational friendship later became a working collaboration – with one of the Princetonians acting as the film's associate producer and the other as a subject (cover story, December 19).

Perhaps a bit of the same kismet was at work when the PAW published in the same issue (1) the From the Archives photograph of John P. Poe 1895 and two other Princeton classmates equally bloody and battered after a freshman/sophomore snowball fight, and (2) the Liriel Higa ’02 commentary regarding the Undergraduate Student Government's 2001 report on women's issues and her own 2 a.m. experience with loud, drunk and male Princetonian louts (On the Campus, December 19).

When this photograph and commentary are taken together, I saw an intergenerational Princeton story that connects my, Poe, and Higa's Princeton experience and one that sparks further thoughts on my continuously evolving appreciation of life and the all important position of Princeton in that experience.

At 2 a.m. about 20 years ago, on perhaps too many occasions, I was one of the said same loud, drunk, and male louts. My escapades only differ from that related by Higa in that instead of having one of my compatriots crash into the dorm door of a PAW writer he crashed through a hallway glass fire door, and the compatriot yelling "Open up the f---ing windows, b---s!" verbatim was doing so while running around the Henry/1901 courtyard naked and swinging his pants over his head. In addition to the effects of alcohol, the latter perpetrator was doing so as part of the requirements of having lost a bet. Names are withheld to protect the guilty.

Perhaps, like a computer hacker with a guilty conscience offering his services to counteract further hacking, my above exploits give me some credibility in decoding the issue of sexual harassment of women at Princeton. Perhaps I get further "street cred" from constantly brushing up with and possibly fostering low-grade misogyny during my year as social chairman of then all-male Tiger Inn, two years of rowing crew and playing rugby, and five years in the Marine Corps.

Fortunately, over a decade of marriage to a very, very perceptive and patient woman and the gift of a now three-year-old daughter (whose unique personality makes me convinced that she is 100 percent Princeton material) gives me the desire to make amends and, I believe, has done much to cure me of my prior negative tendencies. These factors and 20 years of experience including and since Princeton tell me that alcohol-related sexual harassment of women at Princeton comes from a powerful mishmash of "nature or nurture" gender differences in regard to the biology/physiology of the sexual urge and the different rates of attaining a mentally and societally competent state of maturity. In short, most "boys will be boys." That is, most of them will exhibit their inherent tendencies towards sexual frustration and social immaturity while under the influence of too much alcohol.

Furthermore, I look at the Poe photograph as a part and parcel proof of a "boys will be boys" thesis. John P. Poe 1895 is the Poe Field namesake, one of the famous six Princeton Poe brothers, three of whom were all-America athletes, and an individual who was so popular a football hero that, when he was asked to leave Princeton for the rest of the semester because of academic deficiencies, he was cheered goodbye by all of his classmates at the Princeton Junction train station. After being asked to leave Princeton permanently for further academic transgression, Poe followed a life of adventure as a cowpuncher, gold prospector, surveyor, and soldier of fortune. Later he joined the British Army and was subsequently killed in World War I. His classmates memorialized him with Poe Field. His bloody and bashed face in the photograph was undoubtedly made courtesy of the fact that in Poe's day first snowfalls were used as good an excuse as any for freshman and sophomores to fistfight. For better or worse, the photograph strikes me as showing certain inherent and possibly interrelated truths about maleness and Princeton. Poe's story gives me pause to think about how tame are our lives, cane spree (originally conceived to redirect another excuse for freshman/sophomore fist fights), and what feebly remains of the more recently conceived tradition of Nude Olympics.

At the risk of sounding patronizing or like an apologist, I urge Ms. Higa and similarly intelligent and perceptive young women at Princeton not to waste their time taking the generalized actions of Princeton's male louts personally. I also ask them to consider that what makes Princeton Princeton is called a character – warts, frogs, rogue princes, and all. Of course, I am not condoning physically threatening words or behavior wittingly directed toward specific individuals, male or female. Yet, within that constraint, I urge Princeton students and faculty to have the patience to give all students, particularly those struggling with the inherent challenging hurdle of being young and male, some space to howl at the moon while growing up. I also urge all Princetonians, particularly Ms. Higa, not to let their college experience go by without just once getting uproariously and obnoxiously drunk, albeit safely please. I would argue that it is all part of a life's education and a life lived.

Reed M. Benet ’84
Belvedere, Calif.

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