Web Exclusives: Raising Kate

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


April 21, 2004:

Theses and T-Shirts

My thesis is due on May 3, the same day as the deadline for physics theses, a synchronicity that reaffirms a deeply held personal belief that Near Eastern Studies is a science, not an art. Most departmental thesis deadlines have passed, and the eating clubs have been on tap almost every night so that seniors can fete their bound oeuvres and spill warm Beast on their departmental t-shirts.

At Princeton the formula works something like this: The senior turns a copy of his/her bound thesis into the departmental office. The departmental office rewards said student with a T-shirt whose slogan says something funny about the department or about the thesis writing process in general. It’s a good system, one that seems to satisfy most students, as if a Hanes Beefy-T were adequate remuneration for the arduous work.

The Woody Woo senior T-shirt carries the usual “Solve the World’s Problems in 100 Pages or Less” slogan. For the first time in several years, there was a movement to print a different one — namely, a variation on the MasterCard commercials, with the punch line: “Getting a B.A. for B.S.: Priceless.”

2004 was not the year of living dangerously, at least when it came to emblazoning risqué phrases on 100% cotton. The molecular biology suggestion — “Be like a [DNA] helicase and unzip my genes!” — was rejected by departmental authorities on the grounds that it was too racy; to add insult to injury, seniors in other departments pointed out the slogan would be fallacious as students majoring in molecular biology do not have sex. The Department of Economics’ “Economists Do It with Models” was denied on similar grounds.

Art history’s — originally “Get out of my carrel” — was replaced with the more upbeat “My thesis is a masterpiece.” The “get out of my carrel” was a reference to Marquand Library, whose carrels are so enticing as reading spots, that art history seniors must be aggressive in reclaiming them.

My own department, Near Eastern Studies, is still struggling with a T-shirt design. The inability of five undergraduates and a small faculty to agree on a common theme is troubling considering that many of us may one day do diplomatic work in that part of the world. Our first suggestion — a rip-off of the New Yorker’s Coalition Provisional Authority Phrasebook — “I tried to establish democracy in the Middle East and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” — was shot down by the departmental representative, a Turkish professor who said that if the T-shirt had Arabic, it had to have Turkish and Persian and Hebrew, too. The second suggestion — “Q: Where’s Osama? A: In Firestone with the infidels!” — did not fly at all. The third suggestion — a llama’s head superimposed on a map of Pakistan with the caption “Is llama bad?” — failed due to the difficulty of finding a suitable quadruped. My own suggestion, a picture of Russell Crowe, circa A Beautiful Mind with the caption “Get out of my department”, is still under discussion.

Even Professor Robert Finn, formerly the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, has weighed in with an opinion, suggesting that the NES T-shirts feature a map with the names of the students entered into the countries, the logic being that Princeton graduates are like cockroaches and turn up everywhere.


Princeton in Rain

April 11 began a week of heavy rains that left dead worms on every paved surface and turned Princeton into a sea of black umbrellas. In spite of the discomfort of wet socks and mud-splattered pants, there was one ray of light: Bernard Lewis, consummate scholar of the Middle East and author of innumerable books on the region, was getting rained on, too.

Lewis, a professor emeritus at Princeton, is something of an institution, like the Honor Code and the Fitz-Randolph Gate. His last public appearance was at the April 5 Near Eastern Studies brownbag lunch, at which he talked about conceptions of justice and freedom in the East and West. Lewis is a reclusive figure, even by the standards of the NES faculty, and since freshman year I have dreamed of cornering him at a departmental cocktail party and talking to him about the Assassins, about the best place to eat kebab in Istanbul, about anything. On a rainy Thursday afternoon, as he emerged from the gloamy mists of Prospect Garden, I had my chance, grinned at him, and said hello.

Lewis continued to bear down upon the NES building, locking eyes with me but making no indication that he would respond. Suddenly, he smiled and broke into a chuckle.

Princeton in Shine

On Saturday morning Princeton students organized a “Bake W Out” on the front lawn of Terrace, raking in about $500 for the political activist group MoveOn.org. The Saran-wrapped brownies and cookies, all accompanied by tags with a crossed-out picture of the President, were a big hit. Meanwhile, the bikini-and-sarong crowd was busy absorbing UV rays in the sunny parts of campus. According to one Public Safety complaint, topless sunbathing was the order of the day in the Scully courtyard.

On Saturday afternoon Bob Marley’s still-touring band, The Wailers, performed in the 1901 Hall courtyard. The Wailers backed-up Marley prior to his death in 1980, and on Saturday original band members including bassist Aston “Familyman” Barrett and guitarist Al Anderson performed alongside newer members of the group. The concert was sponsored by the Undergraduate Student Government, which also provided free barbeque.

Preparations for the concert began at 9 a.m. sharp with a test of the sound system. The northwestern quadrant of campus was awakened by a loud blast of music that climbed and waned in intensity for almost two hours, prompting one Pyne resident to complain, “The show had better be damn good.”

It was. The old standards were all played: “No Woman No Cry,” “Buffalo Solider,” and “Jamming.” The residents of Little Hall hung out of their second- and third-floor windows, waving their arms to the music. Townies and students who showed up to hear the band grooved to the music or lolled on the grass, watching resident ethicist Peter Singer, clad in a black t-shirt, jeans, and plastic shoes, dance in the front row.


You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu