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Social & Residential Life Themes

In our focus groups and through our website we heard again and again what the survey data cited earlier told us: Princeton students by and large give high marks to the residential experience of living on the Princeton campus; take full advantage of the extracurricular opportunities available to them (and, in some cases, create new organizations to pursue interests that are not being met); and like many aspects of on-campus social life. The residential colleges elicit a broad spectrum of views, and many students have suggestions to improve the experience in the freshman year, as well as to more fully engage sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Throughout the submissions and conversations of this past year there were a number of recurring themes. We would like to begin this section by citing three of them.

Connections Across Classes

One major theme was an intense desire by entering students to have opportunities to get to know sophomores as well as juniors and seniors who can share with them the insights of their Princeton experiences and provide access to a broad range of opportunities, organizations and activities. Some students make these connections with upperclass students through athletic teams or other extracurricular organizations, but even these students frequently are eager to broaden their associations. Students who don't make these connections through established mechanisms worry that they will miss out on important elements of the Princeton experience — or will learn about them too late to take advantage of them. Some students make these connections through fraternities and sororities, and we will return to that topic later in our report.

In seeking connections with older classes, students seem to be looking for a range of perspectives, but in some cases they also have a more pragmatic desire to gain access to passes that allow them to attend parties at the eating clubs. We believe it would be healthy to moderate the demand for club passes by increasing the range of social options on campus (as we propose in this report), but we also believe it would be desirable for the clubs to broaden the range of students who can obtain passes.

Unstructured Socializing

Many of the suggestions we received, and many of the recommendations we make below, involve structured activities. As important as these are, many students also emphasized the importance of relieving stress and building friendships through unstructured and unplanned socializing, ranging from "shooting the breeze" or watching TV to building impromptu snow sculptures and sliding on a tray down the Whitman hill after a snow storm. They encouraged the University to provide spaces in the dorms and colleges where students can gather comfortably and informally, and to send a clear message that taking time off to relax, reflect and refresh; hang out with friends; and have fun is not only acceptable, but healthy and desirable. Some students suggested that the University declare an annual "snow day" whether it snows or not to provide students with a forced and unanticipated day off.

We think there is merit in the University sanctioning an annual "snow day" as part of an effort to create a culture in which social improvisation is valued and not everything is planned in advance. While the annual dodgeball tournament is certainly structured, many students cited it as an occasion that, at least for a day, gives students "permission" to "just have fun." The tournament has become the signature Alcohol Initiative (alcohol-free) event, organized by students for students from every constituency. We encourage all with responsibility for undergraduate social and residential life to consider strategies and incentives to encourage, facilitate and reinforce the positive benefits of making time for recreation and having fun, in unstructured as well as structured ways.

A Broader Sense of Community

The third recurring theme was a lament from many students that they don't experience a campus-wide, or sometimes even class-wide, sense of community at Princeton, or the level of "school spirit" they believe exists at other schools. As one student said: "Princeton does not have a sense of campus community."

In some ways this is a surprising observation on a campus whose alumni are justly noted for maintaining a strong sense of identification with Princeton throughout their lives, returning to Reunions each year in extraordinary numbers, and marching in a P-rade that reinforces the powerful sense of community with which students leave the campus. Many students say that while they appreciate connections to their friends, teams, organizations, clubs, etc., they feel an absence of bonding experiences that extend across entire classes or the entire undergraduate population. As one student said: "I like that there are so many different groups, eating clubs, events … literally something for everyone, from the hermit to the crazy extrovert." But another student said: "We need more common experiences, other than senior theses and writing seminars, experiences that we voluntarily take part in and that we are all passionate about."

When asked for examples of what is missing, students cite higher levels of attendance at major athletic events at other schools, and a few cited the magical experience of the Princeton bonfire in the recently rare years when the football team defeats both Harvard and Yale. (Perhaps other rare occasions also could serve as sufficient reason to have a campus-wide bonfire, such as both men's and women's basketball teams playing in the NCAA tournament in the same year!) Some cited the Pre-rade (the procession from the University Chapel through FitzRandolph Gate to Alexander Beach following Opening Exercises ) as an example of what they had in mind, and others pointed to the way the dodgeball tournament captures the imagination (and participation) of the entire campus. We think there is something to be said for providing more campus-wide or class-wide social experiences, and we turn to this topic as we now make recommendations in the following areas: