Exclusives: Raising Kate
PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Carnegie is a bit more compelling than Arabic vocabularies
"You wouldn't believe
how tired I am," I told my parents the other night. "Crew is killing
me. We were on the water for two hours today, and then we went inside
and worked on technique in the tanks. My back is throbbing, and
I have a stomachache. Do you think it's a reaction to Hoagie Haven's
chicken parm, or gastrointestinal bleeding from the six Advil I
took after practice?
"Didn't you have an Arabic
quiz today?" my mother asked.
"Yeah," I said. "That
went OK. But practice was tough. It was raining, and we were soaked
when we finally got off the water. Then we had to spend 20 minutes
picking dirt and crusted feathers off the sides of the boat. Too
bad Lake Carnegie is hot property for every Canada goose in the
My mother sighed ominously
into the telephone.
"Kate, we're not sending
you to Princeton to become an Olympic rower," she said. "I'm more
interested in hearing about your classes. And why haven't you said
anything about midterms? Don't you have them next week?"
"Hey, and isn't your
first race in a couple of weeks?" my father asked. "I hear that
the Brown team is pretty good this year."
"That's enough, Jim,"
my mother said.
This semester I'm taking
Arabic, sociology, a course about U.S. policies toward the Middle
East, and international relations.
Arabic is basically the
same as it was last semester: The class is dominated by graduate
students whose claims of having no prior exposure to the language
are belied by their knowledge of obscure vocabulary words like "fertilizer"
and "imperialism." We still read from the same imposing red textbook,
in which we follow the exploits of two highly fictitious and greatly
tormented characters. One of them, Maha, is a student at New York
University. She studies English literature, and suffers from "feelings
of loneliness" as a result of her only-child status.
The other character,
Khalid, is a callow youth whose enjoyment of life is hampered by
the fact that his father is forcing him to major in business. I'm
hoping that Maha will be killed by an errant taxicab and that Khalid
will fail out of the University of Cairo and be forced into a life
of prostitution. As predictable as the book is, though, it's a safe
bet that Maha and Khalid will meet, fall in love, and get married.
By the second textbook, Khalid will have found a nice job, Maha
will be writing a bestseller, and both will be living the American
Dream in Dayton, Ohio.
Or maybe not. A semester
of sociology spent reading the works of Max Weber and Karl Marx
has killed my optimism. It's a heavy price to pay, considering that
I signed up for the class in order to correct my friend Nate when
he misquotes Hegel. The class has been valuable in its own right,
though, as the material I've read on social theories and poverty
trends has added to my understanding of other political issues.
"Yeah, right," my friend
Janet said when I tried to tell her that. "How hard can that class
be? What are they going to ask you on the midterm? To write an essay
about why inequality is bad?" Janet, a premed, is worried about
taking organic chemistry in the fall and feels entitled to make
such comments. I told her that sociology would look good if I decided
to apply to Woody Woo.
"So will international
relations," I told her. "Which is what I keep telling myself, every
Tuesday and Thursday morning."
is a great class. Although the first month was spent discussing
dull readings on realpolitik and liberalism, things have picked
up since we started analyzing the possible causes of World War I.
And all those rumors about the professor being a communist probably
stem from disgruntlement over the midterm essay prompts. International
relations has been a novel experience for me, and not just because
it's the first class I've taken in which the professor has seized
upon every opportunity to work the names of former Soviet republics
into his lectures. It's also the first class I've taken at Princeton
where my precept hasn't been led by the professor.
Most preceptors are graduate
students. Alex, who leads my Tuesday night precept, is not. He is
in his early 20s and works for Merrill Lynch. He does offshore trading.
From what I understand, that means helping people in London and
Tokyo make the kind of investments that are illegal in this country.
"Man, all these other
preceptors here give me funny looks," Alex said our first night
of precept. "I can tell they're thinking, ëWhat's he doing
here? He's not a grad student. He doesn't even go to lecture.' Don't
look for me at lecture, guys. I won't be there."
"Yeah, well, don't look
for me there, either," joked Ryan, a senior in the politics department.
"You know, I'm a pretty
laid-back guy," continued Alex. "I'm not going to make you come
to precept if you don't want to, because in a few years, you won't
even remember the classes you took in college. You know what I remember
now from my four years at Cornell? I remember the deep, intellectual
conversations I had with some of the guys at frat parties. The smartest
guy I knew in college was a guy who was just barely hanging in there.
He had, like, a 2.0 GPA. But if you had a conversation with this
guy, he was just amazing." He then went on to talk about a BMW dealership
At the second precept
on the following Tuesday, Alex was unusually quiet.
"Guys," he said quietly.
"Someone complained to the professor that I talked like we weren't
going to do any work in precept. So you've got to start doing the
reading. And you really should come to precept every week."
Sounds of general dismay
followed his announcement. Sensing the loss of future writing material,
I plotted revenge against the informant.
"Let's kill the mole!"
said Ryan indignantly.
But international relations
isn't the only course in which the instructor is at the mercy of
spies: the professor of my near-eastern studies class also feels
the threat of an unseen foe.
"Close the door," he
shouts at students who slink into class late. "My enemies are lurking
While these displays
of paranoia are likely nothing more than theatrical attempts to
make the assassinations and depositions of Arab rulers relevant
to a group of students attending college in New Jersey, they are
highly entertaining. Even better are those comments that simultaneously
explain the political structures of Arab countries and poke fun
at our current presidential administration.
"Syria," he said one
day. "Had no history prior to World War I. For that reason, none
of the institutions in the country is perceived to be legitimate.
Things are different here. For instance, let's say that a high court
intervened disgustingly in a national election, causing an unqualified
and decidedly stupid man to be elected. Sure, there would be protests,
but people wouldn't go out on the street and shoot each other. That's
what they'd do in Syria, though. They'd go out in the street and
shoot each other."
I related the story
to my parents, and since both of them are ardent liberals, they
found it quite funny.
"It's a great class,"
I said. "Too bad I'm over 400 pages behind in the reading."
"Well, read it now, and
get caught up," my mother said.
"I'll try to later,"
I told her. "But I've got to go to crew practice now."
You can reach Kate Swearengen