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Sept. 23, 2009

Vol. 110, No. 1

Pride and shame

In response to: Reflecting on pride and gratitude

Our superstar alumnae, Michelle Obama ’85 and Sonia Sotomayor ’76, certainly have been a source of pride (letters, July 15). But I’m writing about a related source of shame: that a young woman I know will not become an alumna of the incoming freshman class.  

It was surprising and painful to hear from an African-American friend, whose daughter was accepted at Princeton this spring, that after a few days on campus she decided not to attend. Beyond the simple calculation that Rutgers was more affordable, it was also this young woman’s sense that she’d be uncomfortable at Princeton. At a party on campus, an epithet both racially offensive and misogynistic was directed at her black friend, and there was a disturbing lack of reaction by the Princeton students who heard it. In fact, one of them explicitly advised not saying anything for fear of the social consequences. It made me both ashamed of Princeton and proud of her decision not to go. But it’s a real loss.  

I came to campus in 1976, after some questioned Princeton as the right choice for a Jewish woman. And at first I did feel overwhelmed by its pervasive white male heritage. I was delighted to bond with my African-American ­freshman-year roommate (we’re still friends) and uncomfortable that our friendship caused glaring awkwardness in both black and white circles, but I assumed that was not a phenomenon unique to Princeton.

I applaud Princeton’s earnest and successful efforts to diversify its student body and faculty in the 30 years since I graduated and 40 years since coeducation. And yes, Sonia Sotomayor and Michelle Obama have helped update our image for the 21st century. Let’s celebrate how much has changed. But how sad that one still hears Old Nassau’s white male resistance to change, along with the pressure not to object when we hear those unsettling echoes.

Susan Cohen ’80
Maplewood, N.J.

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