While I would never claim to understand African-American student life at Princeton in the 1980s, Michelle Obama ’85’s recollections (cover story, March 18) resonate deeply with my own experiences as an Indian-American undergraduate. She has forced me to confront what it was like to be a minority at Princeton in the recent past and how much Princeton has changed.
One experience that crystallizes how isolating it could be as an Asian-American student was when a group of Indian-American undergraduates decided to start a Hindi class. At that time, Princeton had less than a handful of classes even indirectly dealing with South Asia. I approached an administrator and asked for advice on how best to proceed. I met with utter cluelessness when talking about South Asia; I recall leaving this meeting amazed that this administrator and I were speaking past each other.
When I read about how Princeton recently had an entire week of activities and cultural events focused on South Asia, I was thrilled. Appointing Hindu and Muslim chaplains to the University is another tremendous step forward.
I share these announcements eagerly with my daughter, who will be applying to Princeton soon and is annoyingly enthusiastic about the prospect of going to Princeton. She would eagerly snap up a Bonnie Bassler bobblehead if Professor Bassler should ever choose to market such memorabilia. She raves about taking creative writing courses with John McPhee ’53 or Joyce Carol Oates. What I didn’t tell her in the past was that these amazing opportunities might as well be on the other side of the moon if she weren’t happy.
I think Princeton “gets it” now. If my daughter attends Princeton, I will close my eyes, hold my breath, and hope that an institution like Princeton is not only willing to, but indeed capable of, change.