While students in countries as diverse as China, Mexico, South Korea and France struggle for more rights at Princeton University, my alma mater, the students are in the national news for another pursuit — streaking!
Yes, these future leaders of the western world — 54 young men and 6 young women — limbered up in the courtyard of Princeton’s Rockefeller College before sprinting away naked across the lightly snow-covered campus in near freezing temperature. Hundreds of other students not so inclined, but possibly envious at missing out on such a collegiate experience, noisily watched the “nude olympics”, as this annual sophomore caper is called.
The students were not mindless about this spree. They had their analyses ready, as any future recruits for First Boston or Citicorp would be expected to propound. Streaker Chris Franklin chalked it up to camaraderie, observing “Everyone ought to be entitled to have that sort of memory.” While watcher, Allyson Wesley, empathized: “It’s like a good, crazy, restless once-ina-lifetime thing to do. It’s not a harmful thing n any way.”
Allyson is probably right in one respect. Given what some Princeton students do to and with their bodies, streaking could be viewed as a temporarily healthy displacement.
But such behavior at the school that gave us Woodrow Wilson and Frank Carlucci invites other judgments. Is streaking just letting off stem and having a little fun/? Undoubtedly. Is it also a clue that beyond the Princeton student’s daily grind toward an affluent postgraduate career, there is principally flesh and stimulants? Of course not, Princeton partisans would reply. Why, extracurricular activities abound within the rules of the University’s Provost. There are sports, Triangle, Whig-Clio and many other outlets for developing the men and women who someday would embody “Princeton in the nation’s service.”
A charitable dissenter might counterpoint that what student activism there is in New Jersey is more closely associated with Rutgers University than with old Nassau. To be sure, at this decade’s beginning, Princeton students voted decisively in a heavy referendum turnout to establish a tuition checkoff for students to form a Princeton chapter of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG).
Applying knowledge to action that treats serious social problems could have been a valuable addition to the formal curriculum. The Provost produced a blizzard of procedural obstacles that destroyed both the prospect of a chapter and the original understanding the student leaders believed they took away from meetings at Nassau Hall.
In the past decade, Rutgers students have expanded their own fully staffed, state-wide citizen group to work on matters ranging from detecting water polluters to advancing consumer protection, energy efficiency and a more responsive government. NJPIRG’s research, canvassing and advocacy operations have become a firm pillar of the state’s citizen movement.
Meanwhile, back at Princeton, students keep pouring their estimable talents into narrower tunnels and limited horizons.
Perhaps, some day soon, fully clothed Princetonians can have some fun at their newspaper’s office by reading past clippings of campus activity during the late Sixties when students put effort behind important questions about wars, environment, civil rights, women’s rights, research on campus and corporate power.
Maybe, also, the few students there today, who wish to use their precious, youthful years of challenge in similar veins, can convey tc streakers and their rooters that there are some memories which may be less revealing but much more consequential.