Letter from the Publisher: Overcoming the Princeton Prism

by Aaron Smargon

We are all familiar with the “Orange Bubble,” that intellectuality of political apathy that surrounds our campus and shields us from outside worries. To some degree, this protection—reinforced by the administration and faculty—is a necessity. For without it, how could we individually muster the callousness to devote hours of our days to impractical academics while all around us serious questions are being asked about the longevity of the current world and American political paradigms? At Princeton we must temporarily forget that peace and liberty are fragile ideals, so that we can focus on learning the tools of reason and understanding that will ensure liberty and peace in the future.

But the Orange Bubble may also blind us from our internal reality and leave us severely hindered upon graduation. Take the recent comments of President Tilghman in response to the racial homogeneity of the Greek system, for example. She was quoted in the Daily Princetonian as saying that, “If you go to a Triangle show, you will see the rainbow coalition on that stage. You will see students who come out of very selective schools. You will see students who are coming out of public schools. You will see people of different ethnic groups. It looks like America.” Now I do not mean to contradict our venerable President’s words, but looks can be deceiving. Had she actually spoken to each of the Triangle performers (not to mention crew) about their other University activities and organizations, she may have left with quite a different impression.

While we no longer live in the age of the stereotypical all-white male Princeton, campus segregation is nevertheless still well and alive, albeit along ideological lines. The “Princeton Prism” differentiates incoming students based on multiple invisible criteria, including their political and cultural views. And no matter how many times the administration revises its selection process according to race and socioeconomic status, the underlying problem will remain: The different shades of orange do not interact.

The prism has an equally divisive impact on conservatives as it does on any other group. Having grown up in Southern California and been friends with liberals for my entire life, I was surprised to discover the level of conservative exclusivity at Princeton. As a minority, we may feel safer when we decry perceived social antagonizers and cling closer together for moral support, but in the long term this overprotection is unhealthy to our growth as an accepted ideological movement. If we continue down this path, then we are no different from those confrontational gay rights activists who call opponents homophobic and who rely on intimidation tactics and “allies” for security.

And so my advice for Princeton conservatives is threefold. Firstly, do not view yourself as oppressed or ignored on campus, as this will lead only to self-pity and delusion. Secondly, talk to more liberals to learn more about their beliefs and motivations, as well as your own. And finally, find issues about which you may disagree with other conservatives.

The Tory’s March invitation of Egyptian-American human rights activist Nonie Darwish to Princeton arguably achieved each of these objectives. Instead of simply commenting on a campus culture of indifference toward human rights abuses, we initiated a dialogue through a speaker. The result of the event was a confluence of conservatives and liberals—distributed almost equally among Christians, Muslims, and Jews—who came to listen to Darwish and voice their differing opinions. In the process we discovered that fellow conservatives like Raffi Grinberg ’11 and Muslim Life Coordinator Imam Sohaib Sultan can disagree fundamentally on some issues. Their arguments in this issue of the Tory are a testament to the point that both the Orange Bubble and the Princeton Prism can be overcome. Sometimes it just takes a little poking around.


Aaron Smargon ‘11

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