Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

March 24, 2004:
A time of exploration:
Our books, our bodies, ourselves

by Ashley Johnson ’05


Each semester, precept leaders open classroom discussions with the typical “get-to-know-you” friendly interrogation of the students. They ask for names, hometowns, majors, and, occasionally, “books read recently in free time.” After that question, silence usually fills the precept as students try to remember the luxury of “light reading.”

Currently on campus, the generation that grew with Drop Everything and Read, an initiative launched by reading advocates to encourage reading programs at middle schools, isn’t dropping anything to make time for free-time reading. We’re barely able to finish our assigned readings.

Carolyn Pichert ’05, a politics major from Tennessee, laughed at the idea of “outside reading,” “Reading for fun? I hardly have time to read the 200 pages assigned each week for my politics seminar — and I have three other classes plus independent work!”

Students across the campus are no longer independently exploring the works of Avid, Shakespeare, or Marx but spend their free reading time dipping into sports or news magazines for a mental break.

Emily Brown, a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School, remembers high school as a time that allowed her to read the extra books that she feels shaped her and helped her secure her admission to Princeton “Now, I hardly ever pick up a book to read in my free time,” Brown said, “It takes me nearly a year to finish one, and then I feel guilty for not having completed the 500 pages of reading that I have due each week.”

Pichert agrees, “It’s not the professors’ fault; they have so much knowledge to give us — we just don’t have time to take it all in.”

Recently, the student cast of the Vagina Monologues created a stir in Frist Campus Center by selling chocolate vaginas in an effort to both publicize its upcoming production and raise money for antiviolence groups such as WomanSpace, a local organization that provides safe housing for victims of abuse.

The cast made the candies from a chocolate mold purchased from the adult section of Candy Plus, an online candy store. The vaginas came in sizes large and small. One cast member, Debra Siegel ’05, an English major from New York, estimated the group had raised over $250 in the first two days. “It’s fun to watch people react,” Siegel said. “The reception has been basically positive,” she continued, “and the Frist workers love them!”

The Organization of Women Leaders continues to bring big name speakers to campus. In February, it brought Rochelle Bloom, former CEO of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics to monitor the discussion at OWL’s discussion of “The Beauty Business: Being a Woman in the World of Models, Mergers, and Makeup.”

Katherine Reilly, a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School and president of OWL commented, “The main goal of the event was to expose Princeton women to a female executive who has had a diverse career in international business and ask her questions not only about her career path and the balance of career and family, but also about working in an industry that often has mixed messages for women.”

Reilly feels that by bringing Bloom, as well as other women leaders, to speak on campus, she is helping OWL to further overcome its campus stereotype of “women on a warpath.” She hopes that this event helped women on campus understand the greater purpose behind the makeup: the effort to unite women as a resource to each other.

Reilly reported that the turnout was unusually high for the bimonthly meeting, and that she is excited about their upcoming program, “Dressing Up, Going Out, Hooking Up: What’s it Like to be a Woman on the Princeton Campus.” She hopes the group can further explore how the “hook-up culture at the street is dictating, influencing, or merely affecting the women on Princeton’s campus.”

Ashley Johnson ’05 is an English major from Florence, Alabama. You can reach her at ajohnson@princeton.edu