Exclusives: Raising Kate
PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Princeton, tolerate this!
matter where you're from, except when it comes to ergs
Last December my high
school history teacher invited her former students to come back
to speak about their college experiences.
"I haven't talked
to my roommate since September," said a freshman from Penn.
"Although I often want to ask her why she sits in front of
her computer with a toothbrush stuck in her mouth. Probably it's
just some kind of oral fetish."
"One piece of advice:
get a single!" suggested a girl from NYU, who at the time was
engaged in bitter debate with her three suitemates as to who should
pay for the cleaning supplies for their shared bathroom.
"The best way to
make friends in college is to join an athletic team," a freshman
rugby player from Williams advised. "But be warned - people
are going to judge you as soon as you tell them you're from Missouri.
And when you tell them that you went to Hickman High School, they're
really going to make some unpleasant assumptions. Hick. Man."
One year later, I've
found all this advice to be relevant here at Princeton. I have a
single room, and I'm a member of the women's openweight crew team.
When people ask me where I'm from, I give them the name of my town.
I told my dentist, whose office is decorated with poster-size reproductions
of the Saul Steinberg cartoon that depicts midtown Manhattan in
prominent detail and the rest of the country as barren desert, that
I was from Columbia. He assumed that I meant that I was a transfer
student from Columbia University. When I tell my fellow classmates
that I am from Columbia, they assume that I mean either South Carolina
or the South American country, and dispense either Strom Thurmond
or cartel jokes accordingly.
Then there's the name
of my high school. When people ask me where I went to school, I
give the school's full name, jamming the words together: davidhhickman.
Davidhhickman sounds like the sort of school where socially conscious
parents would send their over-privileged children for a dose of
cultural enrichment. It sounds like the name of an important historical
figure, like davidbengurion or davidlivingstone. Never mind that
the real David H. Hickman was just the guy who gave the land for
the school, and that the institution itself is a large public school
that offers an eclectic mix of advanced placement and livestock
When I do admit that
I am from Missouri, people assume that I was admitted in order to
fulfill the "Midwest quota." When I tell people that I
am on the crew team, they assume that I am a recruited athlete with
sub-par standardized test scores who is depriving a legacy with
sub-par test scores of his rightful spot. My Arabic professor, who,
thanks to requisite class participation, knows that I am both a
Missourian and a member of the crew team, seems somewhat skeptical
of my intellectual capacity. Her suspicions were likely raised when
I told her that I was inspired to take Arabic after watching Lawrence
of Arabia. I later explained to her that it was a joke,
but she remains unconvinced.
There is on this campus,
however, a bastion of tolerance, a place where one's geographic
locale is insignificant compared to one's erg scores: the boathouse
and Carnegie Lake, home to Princeton's crew teams. Although I had
resolved to try out for Princeton's crew team before arriving on
campus, my plans were solidified when I found, under my door, a
bright orange flier reading: "Ladies and gentlemen, Princeton
crew wants you! No experience necessary."
Initially, over 70 freshmen
came out for women's openweight crew; 20 remain. Of the three coxswains
who originally manned the novice boats, two have left. Fall practice
was spent rowing on the water or on ergs, stationary rowing machines
consisting of a flywheel and a bicycle chain. Each offers distinct
advantages and disadvantages: while rowing on the water is generally
regarded to be less monotonous than rowing on an erg, it must be
considered that Carnegie Lake is home to an aggressive contingent
of Canada geese with unsavory sanitation habits. However, the erg
room itself is home to an equally aggressive contingent of men's
For all the pitfalls
associated with rowing, such as blistered palms, overlydeveloped
quadriceps, and the sacrifice of two hours every day to practice,
there are benefits. The team is composed of both seasoned rowers
from Eastern schools like Groton and St. Marks, and novices from
other parts of the country. Disparities between high schools and
states disappear, however, amidst the communal vomiting that ensues
after a series of strenuous erg workouts.