April 4, 2001: On the Campus

Activism? On this campus?
Notoriously apathetic students flirt with causes

By Annie Ruderman '01

Ssh. Don't look yet. Something might be happening here. Yes, on Princeton's campus. The one couched in between gothic and idyllic. The one calmer than Lake Carnegie on a windless day.

Haven't been back in a while? Then you've missed the signs, which are all over. Literal signs that say things like "Women's Leadership Meeting Next Monday," "Workers Rights Rally This Weekend," or "Rethink the Street."

You say you have been back in a while? Trust me, it's really new.

Sure, Princeton dances with the political every so often. We students rallied for Clinton two years ago and against apart-heid 10 years before that. But this is a different sort of activism, grounded less in national issues and more in the institution around us. It's got better Web sites, too.

OWL (www.princeton.edu/~owl)
Organization of Women Leaders

Just a few years ago the Women's Center was a desolate place, somewhere on the fringe of campus, where pizzas would be delivered only to grow cold when no one showed up for Center events. Now, the newly fashioned Organization of Women Leaders (OWL), an undergraduate organization apart from the Women's Center (which has itself moved to Frist), packs houses from Murray-Dodge to McCosh 10 with speaking events and weekly meetings. Led by a pair of sophomores, Erin Culbertson and Nancy Ippolito, and buffered courtesy of an anonymous $150,000 grant last summer, OWL has modest plans for its Princeton future - "We just hope it still exists after we graduate," says Culbertson - and not-so-modest plans beyond Old Nass - "We'd like to make this a national organization," she adds.

WROC (www.princeton.edu/~speac)
Workers Rights Organization Committee

Only Dave Tannenbaum '01 could get people wearing buttons again. This year's Sachs Scholarship winner, Tannenbaum helped galvanize the campus against sweatshop labor in the fall of 1999. It was a shock to Princeton's system for both protesters and protested. And guess what? The university revised its sweatshop policy.

When Tannenbaum returned to campus last fall, his demand was for better treatment for the university's lowest-paid workers. Early this year, Tannenbaum organized a group to protest the university's standards for low-wage workers, and the Workers Rights Organization Committee effort has grown ever since. WROC's recent Alumni Day rally attracted a crowd of 350 and dozens of new faculty affiliates, and recent indications are that the university may revise its policies. Those WROC buttons are popping up all over the place too.


PROSPECT(S) (www.princeton.edu/~rethink)

The most imaginative and least concrete of the three, Prospect(s) asks students to "rethink" the Street as a space. With no small amount of prize money - $5,000 all told - for the thoughts and the prospect of display space in the new campus center, Prospect(s) is soliciting submissions for its idea contest in answer to the question: How could the space on Prospect Avenue be redesigned? While the university does not have plans to alter the current physicality, Prospect(s) has gone a long way toward "rethinking" its namesake.

The naysayer might argue that buttons, speakers and an "idea contest" don't exactly constitute institutional change, and he would be right. Yet unlike oft-tried, oft-failed university-sponsored centers or programs of the past, these new organizations are student-initiated and student-run, which bodes well for student participation. Campus activism is tough to sustain and this bout may be through before it really begins. But there sure are a lot of new posters around this place.

After a quarter-century of complacency, Princeton students might actually be up to something. Just don't tell anyone. Not yet.

Annie's running thesis pages/library fines tally: Pages, 77; Fines, $56.60. And pages take the lead . . .

Looking for more student perspective? Find it at www.princeton.edu/~paw. Now on PAW Online: Annie Ruderman on Snow Days.


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