Princeton: Ivy Bubble?

<span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Laura/" title="View all of this person's work">"Laura</a></span>

graphic by Laura Bussemaker

Growing up in the small college town of Princeton, students live and breathe college. We are privileged to attend one of the nation’s top performing public school systems and are held to high academic and personal standards. But for all its benefits, whose very benefits have very clear drawbacks. Coming into junior year, like many students, my two points of identification were the number of APs in my course load and my SAT score. Walking down the hallways or sitting in the library for lunch, you can often feel the stress radiate off of the students at Princeton High School. The culture of stress, ubiquitous to every college campus resonates throughout the Princeton schooling system. No matter how hard we work, we feel we aren’t good enough, and we are constantly comparing our GPAs, test scores, and amount of extra curriculars we participate in to one another.

What differentiates the bubble of Princeton from other college towns and their hypercompetitive culture is the insulated community we live in. The Princeton community is home to some of the most learned people in our country — 16% of Princeton residents have doctorates, the highest percentage in the country. We are relatively affluent — Princeton is the 25th wealthiest town in New Jersey.  Although we have a high cost of living, according to the US Census Bureau, our per capita income is currently around $63,500, nearly twice as much as the state’s per capita income of $35,000 and overall much higher than the nation’s average per capita income of $26,960. According to NeighborhoodScout, Princeton is a decidedly white-collar borough, and a whopping 97.12% of the workforce here is made up of white-collar workers. While these factors make Princeton the unique locale it is, there is no denying that our small college town is a bubble in the middle of wildly diverse country.

<span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Laura/" title="View all of this person's work">"Laura</a></span>

graphic by Laura Bussemaker

What are the implications of living in a bubble? We are relatively insulated from the effects of racism, sexism, prejudice, and homophobia, and I use the word relatively here because though many Princetonians are taught tolerance, there are still many evident examples of racism and sexism that feed into the hypocrisy of many who don’t practice what they preach. We are fortunate to live in a relatively progressive community, sheltered from the stark reality that the average American encounters on a daily basis. That isn’t to say that we don’t experience racism and its inescapable effects. The majority of Princeton residents are progressive, well-traveled, and have been exposed to many different ideals and cultures. We are overwhelmingly tolerant of other races, religions, cultures, and sexual orientations, and many are proud of our sanctuary city status. But occasionally, our own bubble bursts.  A year ago, Princeton High School was forced to confront the painful incident of its own students, guilty of insensitivity and intolerance, playing an “Alcoholocaust” game. We were shocked to learn that this could occur in Princeton. Just last month, we were outraged as a community when a swastika was found painted on a sculpture at the University. Then again, Princeton has a muddled history with race. Some are quick to forget the racial attitudes and policies of Princeton President Woodrow Wilson, including his avid segregationism and support for the Klan.

<span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Laura/" title="View all of this person's work">"Laura</a></span>

graphic by Laura Bussemaker

Princeton progressivism, however, is not the reality for most Americans. And while we may be diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, we lack diversity in our political viewpoints. Over 72% of people in Princeton, including myself, are liberal-leaning. We consider ourselves too smart to fall for the fear-mongering tactics of Donald Trump. But, we were shocked to learn that many Americans backed Trump’s radical, illiberal agenda, which plays on the fears of ordinary Americans whom we don’t understand. As heart-wrenching as it is, sixty-three million people voted for Trump, underscoring the fact that nearly half America is quite different from our Princeton bubble. Many progressive Princetonians don’t want to associate with Trump supporters, as we think that they’re ignorant, blatantly racist, and deplorable. Yet there’s a great variability in their beliefs and level of intelligence and capability.

Princetonians should be just as accepting of political views as they are when regarding the differences in our own community. And if we aren’t — will

<span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Laura/" title="View all of this person's work">"Laura</a></span>

graphic by Laura Bussemaker

our bubble pop when we leave this little college town?

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