February 13, 2002: On the Campus

Orange and black vs. red, white, and blue
Beer jacket design opens senior class rift

By Abhi Raghunathan ’02

Just a few years ago, in 1999, seniors tossed out a beer jacket because it was too tacky. The class seemed to hate the design — its theme was “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” — as much as the undemocratic way it was chosen. (Class officers, it turned out, had tossed out the results of a class poll, choosing to use the third-place design rather than the top vote-getter. When the results of the vote were made public, the winning jacket was used instead.)

That fuss seems simple now. These days, concerns about style are secondary to issues like morality and patriotism. This year’s beer jacket caused an uproar because it acknowledges the terrorist attacks of September 11 by giving seniors the option of adorning a jacket sleeve with a red, white, and blue ribbon.

The ribbon was not optional in the original design, which mostly smacked of tradition: the school colors, a tiger, the Princeton seal, and the class year. But the slender patriotic ribbon on a sleeve was enough for students to raise a clamor, and the clamor was big enough for class officials to make the ribbon a matter of choice. So now for the first time in a long time — maybe ever — seniors do not have a single, uniform beer jacket design.

Rebekah Wagner ’02, who came up with the winning jacket, did not have the only sketch with some remembrance of September 11. About half of the submissions had some sort of patriotic sentiment. The runner-up had 9-11-01 inscribed on it, a much more explicit statement than Wagner’s ribbon.

The students who complained were a diverse bunch. There were those who did not want to think of tragedy while chugging beer; international students who did not want to wear a symbol of American patriotism when they went back to their countries; those concerned about international students who might be branded as American patriots; and those who felt a patriotic ribbon might be politically restrictive for peace activists and others opposed to bombing.

After hearing these concerns, the powers-that-be in the senior class let each student choose whether to wear a ribbon. “We decided in discussions that we wanted to make as many people as possible content,” said Brandon Hall ’02, the chair of the committee in charge of the senior jacket. He said that about 70 percent of seniors had opted for the jacket with a ribbon.

So the celebratory nature of Reunions and Commencement this year will be tempered not only by a physical reminder of what happened in September, but also by a clear division among students. Hundreds of seniors with ribbons will stagger through the Reunion tents, side by side with hundreds of seniors without ribbons. Both kinds will stick out, just a little, when toasting each other and slapping high-fives.

This does not mean, really, that the campus will have been divided into patriots and pacifists. After all, there are so many different reasons why people decided not to have the colors of the American flag embroidered on their orange and black beer jackets that any attempt to characterize all the students who protested as anything other than people without ribbons on their jackets makes no sense.

What’s more significant is that the beer jacket is no longer a symbol of class unity. Other classes graduating in chaotic times made political statements on their jackets as well. Service stripes marked 1921, an NRA eagle stood out in 1934, a tiger off to war symbolized 1943. I’m sure there were some seniors in all those years opposed to the design because they had different political viewpoints — or maybe because they just hated the artwork. It’s impossible, after all, to satisfy the political and aesthetic sensibilities of hundreds of college seniors. But at least whatever design they settled on united all of them. This year’s design does not.

Abhi Raghunathan, is a senior English major from Tucker, Georgia.


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