This issue will find you mired in exams in what is doubtless one of the more stressful stretches of your year. And of course in the following weeks you will be lost on a beach somewhere for dead week and then back on campus for graduation and reunions and then on your way to your demanding summer job, so the time available for final reflections on the year is limited.
This is unfortunate, because Princeton is concluding a year that demands reflection. We are finishing what has certainly been the most eventful year, and in particular the most eventful spring, in my extensive time here, and anyone who thinks that the issues debated and protests staged will simply disappear in the coming year has not correctly appraised the passion of the students who organized these events or the depth of the discontent and anger driving their passion.
I do not intend to offer campus conservatives’, or even my own, readings of these events in this space. I do not have the authority to do the former or the wisdom to do the latter in any way that would prove constructive. And I believe that both those agitating for radical change and those calling for a more measured response are tired of debate and of each other to such an extent that offering helpful advice would be exceedingly difficult.
The frustrations of both parties are understandable. Some look at Urban Congo and see offensiveness and senselessness so great it almost cannot be overcome, and others look at signs blaring “’[Racism] is essential to the life of a great university’ –Chris Eisgruber” and see a sensitivity that clouds the vision necessary for productive conversation. Both sides, in other words, find empathy with the other increasingly difficult, and without empathy the only things that can be resolved upon are talking points.
Again, I don’t pretend to have a productive solution to this problem. The only thing I would recommend is that we each attempt to more consciously dedicate a portion of our summers to service to our families, friends, and especially wider communities. These are experiences almost all of us embraced, or perhaps were forced to endure, in high school but have found more difficult to engage in here, because we do not have the time or the opportunities or the mandate from the dean’s office that we complete a certain number of hours in exchange for a diploma.
But few experiences better foster the virtue of empathy than giving our time and effort, in short our love, to those in need of help and unable to offer anything in return other than their thanks. And our campus desperately needs this virtue.
I wish you all a happy and healthy summer!