I arrived at Princeton University in September 2019. I had looked at Princeton online and thought, “one day . . .” Suddenly, I was experiencing day one. My eager arrival on campus was emotionally amplified by bright smiles, copious pamphlets, and dormitory supervisors dancing in tiger suits. Orientation innocently began with introductions of names and hometowns — then descended into divisive lectures and panels. The intention of these programs was not to assimilate us into our new (and intimidating) surroundings, but rather to coerce students into accepting and affirming a resident orthodoxy.
We often hear about how college students are indoctrinated in the classroom. But the brainwashing begins on move-in day.
Ideally, freshman orientation should be a procedural, social assimilation to familiarize students with the resources the university offers and how to access them. However, Princeton University undertook a mission to present incoming students with sexual, moral, and political guidance, wholly omitting widely held perspectives and effectively insulating progressive views from intellectual trial. Moreover, attendance at these events was compulsory, thus constituting an ideological hazing.
The mandatory “Safer Sexpo” event series within orientation provides condoms, lube, and other sexual products; in 2020, the university provided unspecified “sex toys” to students and emphasized “solo sex.” Each year, freshmen are given a “You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STI’s” comic book with crude pornographic drawings, complete with a condom attached to the back; the author’s website clarifies that “the ideal target audience for this book is college campuses and sex positive organizations that are involved with young people and adults.” Students are informed where they can obtain contraception, abortifacients, and abortions, but there’s no mention of local pregnancy centers. There is a mandatory LGBTQ+ panel, which provides flyers of “The Genderbread Person” diagram. The Gender + Sexuality Resource Center Peer Ed Training Terminology handouts include a “primer on trans inclusive feminism” which explains that “trans women are women” and “there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.” The Way You Move play includes characters hooking up without regret; meanwhile, an abstinent character is nonexistent.
Unsurprisingly, the university does not mandate an event on marriage, chastity, and abstinence. Moreover, there was not even the slightest acknowledgment of such views during the Safer Sexpo series. Whatever one’s opinions on casual sex, they cannot conceal the obvious truth that one perspective is wholly ignored by the institution. The choice to pursue sexual integrity — perhaps due to a religious commitment, or because a previous traumatic experience renders physical intimacy undesirable — is summarily ignored and treated as illegitimate, invalid, even immoral. Orientation did not engender a conversation but, rather, advanced a viewpoint that presented only two options for dissenters: conformity or ostracization.
The 2021 freshman orientation included the session, “To Be Known and Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University.” The learning module dedicated to examining Princeton’s history of racism suspiciously ignored the institution’s dark past of antisemitism, which included a quota-like system for admitting Jews. The session was offered by the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, whose recent events include “Decolonizing Black Sex, Love, Pleasure, and Relationships” and “HIV and White Supremacy.”
During my freshman orientation, in 2019, all the new students (totaling just over 1,300) filed into an auditorium for the “Reflections on Diversity” presentation. A moderator announced statements relating to identity, and students were prompted to stand whenever a given statement resonated with them. Pronouncements related to socioeconomic status (“I am from an owning-class family”) and sexuality (“I do not conform to a binary gender”). The presenter said “this is your community” after every identity, as if students of wealthier backgrounds inherently shared a community. As naïve freshmen, we were pressured into revealing intimate details about our lives, yet it was wholly impersonal because we were reduced to whatever categorical boxes we fill by chance. It was public atonement for supposed sins.
It is disheartening that universities choose to introduce new students to each other over intrusive, abrasive topics that have confined many generations to eternal arguing. I suspect that, if granted the opportunity, students would experience greater bonding over shared passions and activities, as opposed to discussing sexual preferences and race. My friends are inspiring and inspired. I am friends with them because of their insights, which may (or may not) be influenced by their immutable characteristics and experiences; I’m not friends with them because of their immutable characteristics and experiences, nor do I preclude friendships on such criteria.
I think controversial conversations should occur on college campuses. Yet requiring students to discuss deeply personal, polarizing topics upon their arrival does not foster a sense of connection or belonging. The efforts to be “inclusive” are extraordinarily invasive and alienating. When we meet strangers, we don’t inquire about their sexual preferences or parents’ annual income, so why is this required of nervous freshmen who may be desperate for a single friend? Subjects like race, socioeconomic status, and sexuality are awkward — perhaps even painful — and should not be the first points of discussion.
I imagine some people will brush aside freshman orientation as trivial. After all, it’s just boring events, and students will (hopefully) find their social circles (eventually). But freshman orientation is a lethal weapon causing the slow death of free speech: The diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucrats have designed a comprehensive ideological boot camp that formally establishes what is morally acceptable, and this provides a framework for permissible and proscribed speech in and outside the classroom for the next four years.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that progressive views be banned from campus. Rather, ideological events should not be mandatory, at least if students are not similarly required to hear differing views. The right to free expression does not guarantee the right to a captive audience.
So what can be done? The purpose of freshman orientation should be to provide informational sessions that familiarize students with the campus and the various centers, organizations, and resources. If the university addresses controversial topics, it should present a broad range of perspectives and arguments. Additionally, if the university maintains the mandatory status of events, the compulsory attendance should be applied and enforced across the ideological spectrum.
I hope that Princeton ends its freshman disorientation program, thereby letting students think for themselves. Instead of being divided by socioeconomic status, maybe students will begin their college experience by making some friends.