Princeton is a textbook college town. It has lots of local coffee shops, a small downtown with plenty of restaurants, and, of course, sitting right in the middle of it all is a university filled with thousands of students. Without Princeton University, the town wouldn’t be anything like it is today; truly, the entire ecosystem of Princeton is built on the university. Like many PHS students, I fit in harmoniously with the college town vibe. My mother works at Princeton, and I go to University events or hang out on Nassau Street all the time.
Princeton’s status as a college town comes from its extremely close relationship with Princeton University. The town and the university are completely interconnected, which leads to the university having a large amount of social and economic influence on Princeton’s population. The students and faculty of Princeton University move to Princeton and shape almost every part of the town. This phenomenon is often called “studentification,” a play on gentrification, because it drives up the cost of living in Princeton, sways the population towards liberal ideologies, and places a strong value on education. Every day at PHS, I benefit from the university’s impact on my education.
However, maybe I fit in a little too well with the Princeton demographic. There are so many PHS students whose lives are extraordinarily similar to mine. How many of the people you know belong to the upper-middle class, have parents working at the university, or are left-leaning politically? Probably the vast majority. For students who don’t fit neatly into these categories, Princeton can sometimes feel like an unwelcoming and unforgiving place.
I was recently confronted with the homogeneity of Princeton last year during the 2016 elections, when one of my close friends confided in me that she was a Trump supporter. At first, I was shocked to find that my friend’s political views could differ so vastly from mine. As we talked more about her experiences as a Republican, I began to understand how alienated she must have felt while she was surrounded by so much anti-Trump sentiment in the hallways and classrooms of PHS. Although many people disagree with her, a sentiment of tolerance on both sides is important.
I realize now that many other PHS students who don’t conform neatly into the college town stereotype feel the same isolation, whether it be for social, financial, or academic reasons. In fact, these other types of isolation can often feel much worse because it is not based on something voluntary, like a political opinion. Instead, students can feel trapped as an “outsider” in a college town like Princeton because of factors that are out of their hands. For someone moving into Princeton from another town, the right math level might feel like it’s not good enough; or for someone who doesn’t have the financial means, being expected to buy an expensive graphing calculator may seem like a challenging expectation.
I want Princeton to be a town where all Princetonians can feel accepted and comfortable to share and explore their identities. Especially at schools like PHS, no students should be ashamed to be themselves.