#TellUsTigers 2017: Take a leisurely scroll to meet Princetonians — one post at a time

Aug. 10, 2017 noon

A first-generation undergraduate scaling a mountain. A department manager dealing with her young child's surgeries. A faculty member immersed in brain research. A student whose senior thesis was inspired by travels in Morocco. What do they have in common? More than you think. These Princetonians — and dozens more — have shared their stories on Princeton University's Instagram feed.

Launched in February 2016, the #TellUsTigers campaign has grown into a campus-wide effort, featuring portraits taken by student, alumni and campus photographers — across campus and around the world. The first-person text lends immediacy to stories that address issues head-on, such as stereotyping and personal loss. Other stories capture life-changing experiences and unforgettable friendships. And some are just plain quirky — like the guy who's in charge of maintaining the University's 194 elevators or the student who competes in yoga championships.

The true impact of the campaign — which is also shared on Twitter and Facebook — lies in readers' comments posted by Princeton's robust social media following. Recent comments include: "This is what Princeton at its best is all about," "Amazing story with an equally amazing message," "What an inspirational story," "Thank you for giving a voice to the struggles of so many!" and "This is actually incredible. This is why I want to go to Princeton." The campaign is also featured in a live feed on the new Careers at Princeton website.

Below, we invite you to take a leisurely scroll through some recent posts. Click on each photo to view comments. Follow us on Instagram @princeton_university. Members of the University community can submit suggestion for future #TellUsTigers stories via email at pusocialmedia@princeton.edu.

#TellUsTigers: "In high school, I became interested in women's rights when a female cousin in Morocco was denied educational opportunities simply because she was a girl. For my senior thesis, I wrote about how after the Arab Spring, women were violently pushed out of public squares, frequently sexually assaulted, and victimized & blamed for trying to engage in public discourse & protests. I started to think about the intersection between bodies and honor 7 years ago when my aunt & I were on a bus to Essaouria, a small port city in southern Morocco. We met a girl named Samia who was about 17. Samia & my aunt really hit it off and spoke for about two hours. At a pit stop, Samia excused herself to use the restroom. My aunt turned to me & blurted out, 'She's not a girl!' 'What do you mean she's not a girl — is she a cross-dresser? She looks like a girl,' I said. My aunt said, 'No, I mean that she's been with a man so she's not a girl anymore; she's a woman.' The Arabic word for girl is 'bent' and Samia, because of her previous sexual relations, was now a 'marah' (woman). During the bus ride, I couldn't stop thinking about the language that underlined the fact that men essentially held the diplomas to womanhood. It bothered me that womanhood did not stand on its own & was always attached to something, be it men, virginity or sex in general; a woman couldn't be a woman for herself. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to work on challenging that notion. As part of the Scholars in the Nations Service Initiative (SINSI) at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, I was able to work @USAID, launching an anti-domestic violence co-creation program in Morocco & developing a gender strategy for Tunisia & Rwanda. I interviewed powerful, intelligent women from around the world who are reforming gender structures in their communities. Thanks to #PrincetonU, I've been able work on improving women’s rights & fighting for all the Samias out there who deserve to be in full control of defining their womanhood." — Sajda Ouachtouki @sajdareads, Class of 2013; master's in public affairs from @wilson_school Class of 2017; photo by @EganJimenez #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: "Nate was born 5 months after I started working at Princeton with a #birthdefect called multi-suture craniosynostosis. His condition prevents his brain and skull from growing the way they should because the bones that make up a child’s skull, which are supposed to be separate at birth, were prematurely fused in his case. He is 4 years old now, & he has had four surgeries to date — the first when he was 9 weeks old. His surgeries at @childrensphila have involved cutting open the prematurely fused bones and sometimes rearranging & reshaping his skull, to give room for his brain to grow. Nate's case is progressive, in that every time the doctors cut the bones they fuse up again faster than they should, which means he may need more surgeries in future. I enjoy my job as manager in the Department of Politics because my staff and I support the mission of the University so directly. We help ensure that faculty and students have the resources they need to generate and impart knowledge. It's particularly gratifying when the people we support achieve milestones in their own careers — like when a graduate student defends her dissertation or a junior faculty member is granted tenure. The staff are not only caring and supportive, but also very competent and have stepped in to help cover my workload on a moment's notice. My boss, department chair @NolanMatthewMcCarty, has been unfailingly supportive. When I emailed him from the hospital to say that Nate was born with this very serious medical condition, he said exactly the right thing — 'I'm sorry' — when a lot of people kept telling me everything would be OK. The truth is there is no guarantee that everything will be OK. Nate's condition has become a part of our lives; given the chronic nature of it we can't just put the rest of our lives on hold — we have two other children, age 6 and 1. When Nate is in the OR for up to 9 hours, work is the best distraction; it gives me something to focus on, I check email or do other work instead of nervously watching the clock tick and waiting for the latest update from the nurse." — Amanda Kastern, department manager, politics; photo by @chris_fascenelli #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: "I love meeting people from all over the world, and I am especially moved when I see people become friends whose nations feel nothing but hostility towards each other. As many have observed, it is often hard to hate 'the other' once you have gotten to know them. Growing up in Manhattan I assumed at first that everyone was like me — middle-class New Yorkers who spoke only English. I gradually figured out there were other places and languages, but it was still a surprise when I learned that my mother and my father's parents were immigrants, and that they arrived with no money and no English. This helped me appreciate the diversity of people in the world, as did the international students I met while working as a physician at Princeton's McCosh Health Center. Then, about 10 years ago I became a volunteer ESL teacher with the Friends of the Davis International Center. I have taken advantage of Princeton's Continuing Education Program to enroll in two years each of Spanish, Italian, German and Latin, on top of French, which I learned as a #PrincetonU undergraduate. I began teaching 'Brian’s Informal English Classes' by pure serendipity. I saw a notice for tutors at the Davis Center, tried it and discovered that I love to teach. I was asked if I would give a more structured ESL class and we now meet for two-and-a-half hours most Friday mornings. Teaching this class is the highlight of my week — after hanging out with my grandkids, of course. I have found that my ESL students enjoy the etymologies I throw into my classes, as well as my occasional laughable attempts to speak their languages. In case you know someone who might be interested, my classes are free and there is no registration — you can find each week's class location on the Facebook page: 'Brian's Informal English classes.' People just come and go when they can. And, it is fine to arrive late and/or leave early, and to bring children. Each week we cover vocabulary, grammar, idioms, American culture and history, and a bit of humor. Everyone is welcome!" — Brian Zack, Class of '72, photo by @chris_fascenelli #Princetagram @princetonalumni

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#TellUsTigers: "I'm a first-generation college student. It has been a challenging adaptation, considering I had no prior knowledge of college culture or strategies to survive classes. My first year, I was intimidated to take advantage of resources here. It felt out of place for me to ask a #NobelPrize winning professor for help with problem sets. But then I joined SIFP [Scholars Institute Fellows Program, run by Khristina Gonzalez and Nimisha Barton in the Office of the Dean of the College. SIFP offers mentorship, academic enrichment and community for first-gen and low-income students.] SIFP made me realize all these resources exist to help students at #PrincetonU succeed. I particularly love the SIFP community. Everyone is there for one another if things go wrong, and they are a great group to have fun with. SIFP graduate fellows Ryan and Sara O'Mara are part mentors/part parents to us. This fall break, they led a SIFP trip to New England. We rode in a van for a week, appreciating the natural and architectural beauty. I took this selfie on Mt. Liberty, Franconia Ridge Trail, in New Hampshire. It was Halloween morning and we were unprepared for the conditions. We hiked three hours to the top. At the base there was light wind and rain. After about an hour, we saw flurries; for some it was their first time ever seeing snow! This was exciting — at first. As we progressed the snow got thicker and the wind more intense. We were crunching through four inches of snow, which didn't work well with our sneakers and thin jackets. I didn't travel much before coming to Princeton. Outdoor Action, during first-year orientation, was my first hike up a summit and this was my second. Reaching the top of #MtLiberty was incredible! Ryan and I were literally on our hands and knees at the end. When we finally got there, we were disappointed the view was covered by fog. But after the whole group made it up, the fog cleared away and the views were stunning! A massive feeling of satisfaction fell over me when I realized how much energy I had put into rushing up there. It was my favorite day of our trip." — Joshua Faires (@joshuafaires), Class of 2019 #Princetagram #hike #hiking

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#TellUsTigers: "Five years ago, my sister Portia died from cryptococcal meningitis leaving behind her only child. I knew that the best way to honor my sister was to raise her son. Parenthood challenges me and gives me new perspectives on life. Delmost's vibrant personality and curiosity reminds me of my own childhood and thirst for adventure. 2011 and 2012 were hard years full of grief and transition. To avoid dealing with the issues in my life, I overcompensated at work and filled my calendar with 'stuff.' When I finally slowed down long enough to honestly look at myself, I was over 450 lbs and depressed. It was then that I made the decision to prioritize my self-care and joy. It was also then that I decided to get free! As a result, I committed to therapy, took daily 30-minute walks, hired a personal trainer, went on vacations alone, enrolled in graduate school and invested in my holistic well-being. I encourage people to face their issues and do the hard work, because freedom is worth it! 'Amazing Grace' is a dearly beloved hymn that I find myself humming often. Yet, I must confess that I struggle with the theology of #grace. I struggle because of the notion that I have been given something that I don't deserve & that I can't truly pay back. However, grace is a gift that is given and received with humility. I strive to be an instrument of grace in my life and to never ever abuse the grace that is given to me from others. Hey, we all need a little line of grace/credit in life. I believe in the power of beloved community. In a society that celebrates individuality & virtual connectivity, it is easy to forsake real, tangible community. In relocating to #PrincetonU I began building and cultivating community for my family. It's not easy these days, but it doesn't take much to smile at people & invite them out to tea/coffee or over for dinner. We are communal people made to be in relationship with one another in ways that bring life, joy, healing and wholeness." — Theresa S. Thames, associate dean, @orlprinceton. Thames will lead a worship service at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, in the Princeton University Chapel. (Photo by @noelvphoto '82 *86) #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: "I have to cross Washington Road on my way to work — it's a busy street with lots of traffic — and I often think about what's going on in my brain. I'm a computational neuroscientist, so I study the brain and how it computes. Next time you're waiting to cross Washington (or any other road), think about the complex calculations your brain is carrying out: your retina gets a series of images of a speeding truck; your brain has to interpret those images, estimate how fast the truck is moving, how far away it is, how much time until it arrives, how much time it will take you to cross the road. (If it takes too long making these calculations, it will need to start over!) In my lab, we take data from the brains of animals engaged in similar tasks and seek to identify which neurons are computing the speed of the truck and which are deciding: 'Run — you can make it!' It's pretty well accepted (among neuroscientists at least) that the brain is some kind of computer — an information-processing device that takes information from the senses and computes appropriate responses. But there's massive disagreement about what kind of computer the brain is or how it computes. One of the exciting things about studying the #brain is how little we know, how much there is to discover! Before I got into neuroscience, I studied math and philosophy. I loved the beauty and precision of math, but I was fascinated by consciousness and the mind, the idea that pure matter could be organized to give rise to thoughts and feelings. Computational #neuroscience was a field where I could satisfy both kinds of yearnings. The people in my lab at #PrincetonU come from many backgrounds — engineering, statistics, math, biology, physics, computer science, neuroscience — all of which have different ideas and perspectives to contribute to thinking about how the brain works, which is one of the things that makes it exciting to work together." — Jonathan Pillow, associate professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute; photo by Cindy Liu, Class of 2018 #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: "A tipi is a home used by the Plains Indians & represents a small fraction of the dwellings Native peoples use. We are as diverse in our homes as we are in our languages, but one thing remains certain. We are all indigenous people. I am N’dee (Apache) & Apsáalooke (Crow). I come from the pine-forested mountains of Arizona & the areas around the Yellowstone River Valley in Montana. We are all Natives at Princeton — every student, faculty member & staff member. I imagined my time at #PrincetonU being one where I would create a Native group on campus to fill a space that had been empty. Like building a tipi this takes preparation. One of the first things needed for a tipi is to find the right poles & canvas. I couldn't find either freshman year. That was until sophomore year when Zoe Toledo (far left), Chance Fletcher (not pictured) and I (third from left) restarted the student group Native Americans at Princeton. After some months of refining our vision one of the first things we did was change the name to Natives at Princeton (NAP). We wanted to move away from the American Indian-centric image of our name & instead create a space where Native people from around the world could find a common space to raise issues, and tipis, while celebrating their heritage. We chose the tipi as one of our symbols because it represents an idea of community & it is a structure is vastly different from a Princetonian's daily encounter with Gothic architecture. Once we gained a vision, we found the canvas but we still needed the poles. To me the poles are those who support NAP in any capacity. Like the time President Eisgruber helped raise the tipi. Each new event is a stake that grounds the tipi canvas to Princeton. NAP has done great things for Princeton & for me. I will miss our East Pyne board meetings & I have the utmost faith that the new board will continue to do great things. The success of Natives at Princeton is not wholly mine & instead is a shared accomplishment of everyone in this photo & many more. A'ho. Thank you." — Emery Real Bird, Class of 2017; photo by Cindy Liu, Class of 2018 #NativesAtPrinceton #Indigenous #Princetagram

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