Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

Illustration by Henry Martin ’48

April 10, 2002:

An amble down Princeton Lane
From crew to conjunctivitis to construction

By Kate Swearengen '04

This week's column, gentle reader, will be somewhat short on structure and content. Sorry about that. The reason for this is that I quit the crew team yesterday, and am somewhat confused as to how I should spend my next two years at Princeton. Or, rather, my next two-to-four years. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

You see, I had planned to row throughout my undergraduate career. I picked up the sport during my freshman year, when I joined the team as a walk-on. Now, I have walked off. But I still have a lot of crew-themed paraphernalia. This includes, but is not limited to, an unflattering Spandex unisuit, two rowing jerseys, and a windbreaker jacket with "Princeton Crew" emblazoned on the back. I also have some T-shirts. One is blue, and has a picture of Tony-the-Tiger (of Frosted Flakes fame) on the front. On the back are the words "My coxswain ate your coxswain for breakfast." If you're interested in any of these things, call me. My number is 609-986-9814. Also, please call this number if you can hook me up with a cushy summer internship, or if you would like to set me up with your tall, handsome son.

So, like I said, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my time. I'm pondering spending fall semester at the American University in Cairo. Beirut was my first choice, but it's on the State Department's list of really scary countries where Americans shouldn't go, and so Princeton won't let undergraduates study there. So the next-best thing is Cairo. Unfortunately, Egypt is on my parents' list of really scary countries where their daughter shouldn't go. Belgium isn't, and that's where they want me to spend my fall semester. I would rather swallow glass than do study abroad in Antwerp.

The good thing about not going away in the fall is that I'll be able to spend more time in Trenton. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I drive one of the Student Volunteer Center's cars to the capital city, where I volunteer at the West State Street Child Development Center. The WSSCDC is a program for the children of single mothers and low-income families. I work with the four- and five-year-olds. Mainly, this involves cajoling them to lie down on their cots before I count to three, as well as lying to them about the nutritional value of green beans. I also used to refill Peanut's water bowl, but I don't do that anymore. Peanut was the classroom's hamster, and a couple of weeks ago one of the kids left the top of his cage open, and that wily quadruped escaped. Miss Stephanie, the teacher, left water and hamster pellets out for him, and for a while we could hear Peanut moving around in the walls. But by last Thursday, it had become pungently evident that the hamster had breathed out his soul. R.I.P., Peanut.

The little kids I work with are great. They have no inhibitions, and so long as there's pudding at lunch, they're happy. They fall down, smack their heads on the floor, and weep stormily for 10 minutes. Then, abruptly, they get bored with it and turn the tears off. But little kids are really, really dirty. They eat Play-Doh, lick the spigot of the water fountain, and don't wash their hands. Then again, neither do college students. This is evidenced by the "Conjunctivitis Update" announcement on the Princeton website. For those who don't know, "conjunctivitis" is a nice way of saying "pinkeye." The disease is extremely contagious, and at least 247 students have contracted it since February. That means that at least 247 students on this campus don't know how to wash their hands properly. Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise, because a couple of weeks ago there was an announcement about the gastroenteritis outbreak on campus. Gastroenteritis is another one of those diseases that owes its virulence to poor hygienic habits. I'm not quite sure why we're advertising our dirtiness on our website. Yale doesn't do this kind of thing.

But while I'm talking about things on this campus that need to change, let me address the extensive amount of construction. Specifically, the excessive amount of building restoration. During the fall semester of my freshman year, I had French in East Pyne, which is arguably the prettiest building on campus. Right now, though, the building is surrounded by scaffolding, fences, and a pulsating wall of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The fact that work on East Pyne won't wrap up for another couple of years makes me very unhappy. But the people in the French and Italian Department must be livid. It was bad enough that they got kicked out of their beautiful building. It's even worse that they had to relocate in East Dillon. East Dillon is, for those who are fortunate enough not to know, one of the two trailers that are nestled up against the south side of Dillon Gymnasium. It is bleak and ugly, and having to move there from East Pyne is like the Pope having to move to Avignon from Rome during the Babylonian Captivity.

It used to be that every time I walked by East Pyne, I would see a couple of professors standing outside, having a smoke. Yes, I believe that smoking is a disgusting habit, and I am well aware that those professors were layering on their lungs the same way you might layer pâté on a piece of toast. Still, there was a certain nobility in it. Picture this: a brilliant professor ruminates on Balzac as he abstractedly puffs at a Gauloise

and gazes at Nassau Hall. You won't see this kind of thing outside East Dillon. No, rather than face this indignity, the professors of the French and Italian Department slink off somewhere to smoke clandestinely.

If campus construction must continue, though, then I have some suggestions. What I really what I really want is for the campus to be paved with cobblestones. Yes, cobblestones. This university already has the insular, homogenous feel of a medieval village, and we might as well add them. To enhance this effect, we should also post sentries at all the gates. Not the kind of muscle-bound thugs that Tiger Inn has hired to keep undesirables out of their club. No, I want real sentries, wearing chain mail and armed with maces. And maybe, while we're at it, a couple of falconers...

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu