The Orange Bubble

“The Orange Bubble” is what people call Princeton, sometimes, because the school’s colors are ridiculously orange and black, and because Princeton has a way of insulating one from the real world. Its campus is suburban, in an awkwardly affluent community that bears little resemblance to most other suburban or rural college towns. Its students tend to have little interest in the outside world, or are so hyperscheduled that they don’t have a space for the outside world in their calendars. This was starkly apparent to me today.

My morning lectures today: in my sociology class, racial inequality in America and the legacies of slavery and segregation; and, in my gender and sexuality class, AIDS—a topic which, as my previous posts will attest, I am very shaken by. At lunch, however, I picked up a copy of the Daily Princetonian, as is my wont. Front page, above-the-fold news? The crazies who inhabit the Internet are angry that Princeton’s admissions rate went up by 0.54%. The piece was both an example of inadequate journalism and just general ridiculousness, quoting the most disgusting of comments that were vaguely sexist about University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Admissions Janet Rapelye, and complaining about grade deflation as usual. All of this is absurd, and has always been absurd, and there was nothing new about my usual lunchtime rant to my friends about people who are stupid, but today it seemed to contrast so starkly between my morning lectures.

In the afternoon things just magnified. In my journalism class, one of my classmates read a (really excellent) piece she’d written for the class, about a Berkeley co-op that she’d encountered when a spring break trip she took through Princeton’s community service program visited there. I was mind-boggled by how it must have been for this Princeton community service group to encounter all the unusualness of the Berkeley co-ops, and how alien it must have seemed. I think the author of the piece certainly didn’t let that come across when she introduced us to the co-op’s inhabitants, which was great. But I couldn’t help wondering about the culture shock.

To me, it is Princeton who is out of step with reality. I’ve grown up in this sheltered environment with this really specific idea of what’s sensible and sane and right. In a way, to me, the nudity and veganism practiced at the co-op in the piece are less weird than bitching about grade deflation or the fact that this university isn’t an old boys’ club anymore. But I’ve been wondering for hours now how skewed that perception is. What part of my day was the reality check? I still don’t know.

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