Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

December 19, 2001:
By Abhi Raghunathan '02

The colors of the beer jacket this year go beyond orange and black—for some seniors, anyway. This year, students have the option of adorning their jacket sleeves with a slender red, white, and blue ribbon.

With the exception of the patriotic ribbon, the other elements of the jacket this year could not be more traditional: the school colors, a tiger, the Princeton seal, and 2002. But Rebekah Wagner '02, who designed the jacket that got the most votes this year, also added a red, white, and blue ribbon to a sleeve. After the results were announced, the ribbon led to a small clamor from students who felt it was inappropriate and the clamor led to a concession by senior class officials to make the ribbon optional. Now, for the first time in a long time, the beer jacket will not have a single uniform design.

Rebekah Wagner was not the only one to embroider her design with a remembrance of September 11. About half of the submissions had some sort of patriotic badge. The runner-up design even had 9-11-01 inscribed on it, a far more explicit remembrance than Wagner's somber and simple ribbon. Still, the ribbon was enough to raise questions and arguments.

How quickly debates change. A few years ago, during the height of celebrity culture and the Clinton sex scandals, a beer jacket design was heckled and finally tossed out because it was too tacky. "It's not stylish enough!" detractors said.

These days concerns are moral and philosophical. They look toward how we should remember the impact of September 11 on our class, and if we should be forced to remember them during the most festive of times during graduation. Some look on the jacket as a symbol of class unity and argue that giving people an option defeats the purpose of the jacket. Others contend that the purpose of a beer jacket is to be worn while drinking beer and that any patriotic badge on it is in poor taste.

And then there are foreign students who wonder why they should have to wear a symbol of American patriotism on an article of clothing they will put on to go drink beers at the end of their stay at an American university.

In the midst of this commotion, the powers-that-be in the senior class let each student choose whether or not they wanted a ribbon on the sleeve of their own senior jacket. "We decided in discussions that we wanted to make as many people content as possible," said Brandon Hall '02, the chair of the committee in charge of the senior jacket. He said that about 70 percent of seniors had decided to get a jacket with a ribbon.

So Reunions and commencement this year will be tempered by a physical symbol of how different the world has become. Hundreds of seniors will walk through the beer-drenched tents wearing a memorial to that fact. The ribbons will be conspicuous when friends toast each other, when they hug, when they slap high-fives. Even those who choose not to get a ribbon will bear testament to what has happened through the absence of the patch on their arm. But this does not mean the campus will have been divided into patriots and pacifists. There are so many different reasons why people decided not to have the colors of the American flag embroidered on their orange and black beer jackets - taste, political differences, confusion - that any attempt to lump them all together under any classification (except, perhaps, as Princeton University seniors) would almost certainly fail.

You can reach Abhi at abhishek@princeton.edu.