Princeton Emailed Me About Race

The president of Princeton emailed me and all the other alums, about racial issues happening there.

It was jarring to receive a communication from that side, and feel implicated on that side.

The black kids often struck me as isolated and embattled at Princeton. They were definitely hanging in and putting a good face on things, but even in my racially naive teenaged state I could sense that things weren’t ideal for them. I felt sad for Michele Obama when I heard that she went there.

I can imagine how marginalized black kids might have felt, because I’m white and I felt marginalized. It was probably a whole other order of magnitude to be black at Princeton.

There were a lot of us who felt like we were there to provide a diverse college experience for the core Princeton student body. The REAL Princeton students. “How was the party?” one of us would ask. “Too many Princeton people there,” the other would say. When we said Princeton people, we meant the people Princeton was meant for. People not like us; people we didn’t know how to fit in with and weren’t going to try to fit in with.

“Oh so that’s why you got in,” more than one person told me with a superior smirk. “It’s because you’re from Alaska. Geographical diversity.”

I saw a girl from a small town in northern Idaho try to fit in. She worked so hard. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I thought.

Life was good on the margins of Princeton. The margins of Princeton were kind to me. There were beautiful, funny, brilliant people there. We laughed and laughed.

But like I said, I’m white. I wouldn’t doubt for one second anything a Princeton black person said about feeling alienated, bizarre, unwelcome, a stranger in a strange land.

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