Old Nassau is no Zuccotti Park. As activists stormed the streets of Lower Manhattan and many other locations to protest corporate greed and economic inequality, University seniors continued to rush to information sessions with investment banks and consulting firms.
That the timing of Occupy Wall Street aligned with job-recruitment season in the financial-services sector highlighted the reality that the Ivy-League-to-Wall-Street pipeline was alive and well at Princeton despite the political upheaval taking place just a train ride away.
Some students, speaking shortly before police evicted the New York protesters Nov. 15, said they felt that the protesters were not credible enough to be taken seriously. Travis Boyce ’12 said that he would view the demonstrators as simply a “sideshow or circus act” until they put forth a more coherent argument and examples of the changes they want to see in the financial industry.
Boyce, who has secured a position in finance after graduation, has no qualms about breaking into Wall Street himself. “I don’t see myself as embarrassed, and don’t think people are any different in terms of the reaction to saying you work on Wall Street,” he said.
At the University’s Office of Career Services, director Beverly Hamilton-Chandler said there has been no change in the number of students applying for campus interviews with finance and consulting firms during the fall semester. Financial services has been one of the most popular employment options for Princeton seniors in recent years, selected by 10 to 12 percent of members of the classes of 2009 and 2010 who reported having jobs before graduation.
That is unlikely to change soon, many said. “I think Princeton students are a little too driven in whatever direction they’re going into to let a little something like a protest movement change their career paths,” said Wilson School concentrator Jacob Reses ’13. He said he does not support the movement because its message is inconsistent and “many of the protesters seem to think their political frustrations justify lawlessness.”
Other factors contribute to the lack of buzz on campus about Occupy Wall Street, Reses said. “I don’t think it really resonates here,” he said. “This is a campus that is far less political than a lot of people might expect — so while I think people are conscious of Occupy Wall Street, like most political issues it’s not something that’s really on their minds.”
This is not to say that there have been no efforts among students to support and learn about the movement. On Nov. 17, about 50 students gathered outside Frist Campus Center to show solidarity with the Occupy protesters and discuss topics ranging from poverty to inequality. Earlier, small groups of students traveled into New York City to witness the movement firsthand and attended “teach-ins” to discuss their experiences at the demonstrations.
But considered alongside students at some peer institutions, Princeton’s engagement with the movement looked somewhat tame. Harvard and Yale students protested on their respective campuses through groups such as Occupy Harvard and Occupy New Haven. In early November, nearly 70 Harvard students walked out of their introductory economics class — taught by Gregory Mankiw ’80 — to demonstrate their “discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics course” as well as their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Some blamed the comparative lack of action at Princeton on students’ being overscheduled. “We don’t really have time to read up about this protest going on and go to New York,” Alexandra Jerez-Fernandez ’12 said. “That comes second. Work comes first.”
But Wilson School professor Stanley Katz disagreed. “I don’t think that’s true at all — you’ve got time to eat, you’ve got time to think about these things,” he said.
“It’s not thought to be civil on this campus to be too outspoken,” Katz said. “On one level that’s admirable, and it’s keeping the tone around here very nonconfrontational, but intellectually it’s a disaster.”
Ben Cogan ’12 echoed Katz’s sentiments, noting that protesting is not the typical avenue through which Princeton students participate in the community. “They think it’s more effective if you engage people who are actually effecting change, rather than taking to the street,” he said.
But whatever their views on the movement, a keen interest in finance will keep Princeton students on Wall Street, said economics professor Elizabeth Bogan.
“Finance is the blood of any country,” she said. “The reason the students want to go into finance is not just the income — it is high income, but it’s also where resources get allocated. So our students are interested in being part of that very important allocation. It’s no different from someone wanting to be a doctor because they find healing people to be fascinating.”