April 4, 2001:
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,
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.
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.
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.