November 2, 2005: On the Campus
The tradition must go on; raising a glass, liberally
By Adam Gottesfeld ’07
McCarter Theatre was transformed into a war zone. Students pelted each other mercilessly with crumpled sheets of paper. Friends struck friends; siblings aimed for siblings. The timid dove for cover underneath the seats. Ushers wearing nothing more than jacket, tie, boxers, shoes, and socks prowled the aisles, taunting the mob to throw more. It was pure anarchy. It was the prelude to the Princeton Triangle Club’s Freshman Week show.
Wearing a bright yellow shirt, sophomore Michael Van Landingham was a popular target. He quickly learned to fight back. “It was just one of those moments when Princeton students are totally unaccountable, so why not throw paper at strangers who are also gunning for you?” Van Landingham said. “Paper-throwing made my night.”
The latest outbreak of what has become a tradition almost didn’t happen. The day before the show, Thomas Dunne, the associate dean of undergraduate students, e-mailed all undergraduates instructing them to not throw anything “before, during or after the performance.” He warned that such behavior “could result in disciplinary actions from the University” and that all bags and purses would be searched. (Dunne later said that the Triangle Club and McCarter had requested the e-mail.)
Triangle Vice President Eve Glazer explained: “The chandeliers in McCarter are very expensive. If toilet paper gets stuck there or the chandeliers break, we’re kicked out.” Club members encouraged throwing sheets of paper, which would not damage the chandeliers, Glazer said.
One group of juniors stormed the theater armed and ready for battle. After raiding the Patton dorm computer cluster on their way to McCarter, the students stuffed sheets of printer paper underneath their shirts and in their pants. They nonchalantly walked past the ticket-takers, who failed to notice their abnormally shaped bellies, and marched upstairs to the right side of the balcony. From this strategic elevation, they rained ball after ball of paper onto the students below.
“I was only scarred when a certain group abused their superior balcony-level position to carpet-bomb me,” Van Landingham said. “When I saw the paper throwing, I got involved because I assumed the dean’s warning was null. You can’t stop something when that many people are doing it.”
The Triangle members appreciated the bombardment. As James Park ’07 put it, “Being hit in the face really brings my acting to a new level.”
In the smoky bar area of the Annex Restaurant, amid the tables of bearded graduate students, football-watching locals, and beer-drinking seniors, is an unusual sight. Undergraduates sit at three center tables chatting with grad students who are not their preceptors and community residents. At one moment, they are analyzing the lack of women in New Jersey politics; the next, they are discussing the sorry state of Princeton’s sidewalks. But their focus is political. After all, they are Drinking Liberally.
“We’re creating a social network that’s useful politically,” said graduate student Juan Melli, one of the founders of the Princeton chapter of Drinking Liberally. “The right has done the same thing, organizing socially through churches. I see this as an equivalent response for the left.”
Members of Drinking Liberally, a national organization of nearly 100 chapters, congregate at local bars to socialize and chat about liberal and progressive politics. The Princeton chapter meets at the Annex every Thursday night at seven.
“There’s something very appealing about public spaces being used for discourse,” said postdoc Josh Weitz, co-founder of the Princeton chapter. “[The Annex] is an especially great place because it bridges the separation between the town and the University.”
To get more undergraduates involved, Weitz and Melli invited senior Frances Schendle, president of the College Democrats, to become the group’s third host. “It’s a great way for undergrads to get to know members of the community, to share their experiences and knowledge, and to think about ways to get active within the community,” Schendle said.
Added Melli: “It’s fun. It’s a way to talk politics and unwind.”
Adam Gottesfeld ’07 of Los Angeles is a Woodrow Wilson School major.