Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
April 23, 2003:
They aren't like you or me
Graduate students take it on the chin during appreciation week
|Illustration by Henry Martin 48
April 7-11 was National Graduate Student Appreciation Week, an
event the University commemorated lavishly by making Friday lunch
at any of the campus dining halls free for grad students. To add
insult to injury, Professor John Fleming, convinced that Princeton
graduate students are getting more than a free lunch, chose that
week to pick on the "Gradgrinds." In his Daily Princetonian
article, entitled "A Free Ride at Princeton," he blames
the grad students for living in ugly housing, for riding on the
new P-Rides shuttle service, and for, well, being foreign:
"I live on the edge of the 'Gray Farm,' just across the street
from the 'Butler Tract.' The 'Gray Farm' is a neighborhood developed
as a 'faculty ghetto' in the 1960s, consisting mainly of good $30,000
houses that now go for about half a million each. The 'Butler Tract'
is a graduate student ghetto of ticky-tacky rental property that
is easily the best real estate deal in town. Using a tastefully
placed screen of fast-growing evergreens the University has done
a pretty good job of shielding us faculty from our neighbors; but
we all know they are there and doing their graduate student thing
depressing our property values."
Professor Fleming is known around campus for his affinity for
Old English his classes on Chaucer are legendary and
for a fashion spread three years ago in Maxim, for which he wore
a three-piece wool suit and posed with several East Village types.
Professor Fleming has written regularly for the Prince; as a rule,
his column is incomprehensible and outrageously self-indulgent,
although not generally offensive. Therefore, the hostility and apparent
racism of "A Free Ride at Princeton" came as something
of a surprise:
"The [P-Rides shuttle] ride home is fast, fun, and comfortable,
not to mention upliftingly multicultural. The bus-driver and I are
ordinarily the only native-speakers of a Western language, though
not always the same one, of course. I've never been on the bus when
Chinese was not the lingua franca, so to speak, of the majority.
I wonder what the Admiral [King, an overseer of the Japanese front
during World War II, and the man for whom one of the streets in
the neighborhood is named] thinks about that."
The fallout was swift. The Executive Committee of the Graduate
Student Government, the Butler Committee, the Association of Chinese
Students and Scholars, and the Graduate Student Government International
Students' Concerns Committee issued a joint letter condemning the
tone and timing of the article: "And now, besides all the roles
that we play here student, preceptor, lecturer, research
assistant, departmental support staff, prospective student recruiter
and host now we have to take such public abuse even from
one of the very faculty who invite us here to work with them and
who depend upon us to grade tests and papers in the case
of Fleming, so that he can spend his time dishing trash-talk about
us. Happy Graduate Student Appreciation Week."
Happy Graduate Student Appreciation Week, indeed. I went to a
party at the Grad College on Friday night, expecting to find the
students plotting retaliation and fomenting revolt. Surprisingly,
the Prince article rarely came up in conversation. The party was
mellow, an instance of the Princeton tradition of pregaming, or
drinking in preparation for the main event, which could be a basketball
game, the Street, or Thursday night precept. In the case of the
graduate party, the main event was '80s night at the D-Bar. Grad
students, either because they're more mature than undergraduates
or because they're lousy alcoholics, drink less, so they can afford
to buy better stuff. Almost everyone who came to the party brought
an offering Carlsburg, Absolut, a case of brown ale, a couple
of bottles of Merlot and the crowd was as international as
the bar. About 25 people showed up, most of them engineers or economists,
although there was a smattering of philosophers and a couple of
I approached one of the engineers, who was mounting an assault
on a bottle of wine. Apparently there was something wrong with the
"Having some problems there?"
"Perhaps an undergrad can show how it's done," he retorted.
Perhaps not. If it doesn't come in a white cardboard box
Franzia is a big hit at undergraduate parties and if I can't
pry the bottlecap off with my teeth, I don't know how to open it.
My suggestion that he break the neck of the bottle, rockstar
style, against the side of the desk was rejected.
Helen, a Swedish graduate student studying civil and environmental
engineering, threw the party. She lives in the north courtyard of
the Old Graduate College, in a two-room single. This is hot real
estate, and Helen came by it because she's a member of the House Committee.
The House Committee is like the Undergraduate Student Government,
but with actual responsibilities, and its members have priority
in draw times.
All the guests commented on the spaciousness of Helen's room; most
of them, myself included, were envious. Bernard, who had occupied
the room last year when he served on the House Committee, bleakly
indicated the furnishings. "That's my refrigerator. An undergraduate
sold it to me for $80. It was a horrible deal. That's my desk. It
was too big to move out, so I left it here," he said mournfully,
but then brightened. Bernard is now living in Professor Fleming's
"Butler Ghetto," and although he sorely misses his old
room, there were certain disadvantages.
"Did you know that I never got sick at Princeton until I
lived in this room? I don't think it's very clean. There was a cockroach
I asked one of the economists standing nearby what he thought
about Professor Fleming's article. He hadn't heard anything about
it, so Bernard told him the story.
"Doesn't he like graduate students?" Asked the economist,
"No. He's the kind of person you see on the street and greet
like this," said Bernard, executing a sieg heil.
"It's too bad, because he's missing a good party," the
economist said, gesturing around the room.
You can reach Kate at email@example.com