Vice President, Deans welcome students to new academic year

Thursday, Sep 21, 2017

Dear Princeton Students,

Each new academic year begins with a sense of optimism, energy, and hope.  This year is no different.  Poet and author Maya Angelou said that her poetry “is a call for hope beyond our history.”  As we begin the new semester, perhaps your work, too, will call for hope beyond the complexities of the present.

Yet hope requires tenacious effort in the face of world events.  Just in the last few months and days, we’ve witnessed a devastating conflict with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville; a war of words between our nation’s administration and North Korea; cataclysmic storms and flooding in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean that mirrored those in India; two consecutive severe earthquakes in Mexico; the shooting of the LGBT Pride Alliance president at Georgia Tech by a campus police officer; and threats to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the rights of transgendered people planning to serve in the military.

So many lives seem fragile and precarious right now.

For many of us, these events and more challenge long-held values.   The ongoing government debate about whether to continue DACA is an example of one issue that deeply affects our community.  The University has developed a DACA webpage  and FAQs to help us stay informed, identify resources, and articulate ways to support students with DACA status.  We’ll continue to update you on the University’s response to this and many other on-going issues and events.

But we want to begin this year reaffirming our University’s core beliefs.  We embrace the plurality of our community; we affirm each person’s dignity and humanity; we celebrate our long tradition of care, responsibility, and respect for one another; and we commit to engage purposefully with the critical issues facing us now and in the future.

Optimism and hope without concrete action, however, is insufficient.  Optimism requires us to engage actively and courageously in constructive conversations, programs, and study designed to challenge, broaden, and inform our perspectives.

Our campus teems with opportunities to learn about and engage with the concepts and debates that roil at the core of current events.  Regardless of where you stand on issues such as climate change, white nationalism, the rights of transgendered people and immigrants, and many more, we encourage you to learn from the divergent perspectives of others, including our many faculty whose expertise provides nuanced and varied analyses of just these topics.

The opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities seem particularly resonant these days:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . ."

We see cause for great hope, even though the events of every day sometimes push us toward pessimism.  We need one another—students, faculty, and staff alike—to help us move our campus community and those beyond FitzRandolph gates toward the light.

We hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn from challenges to your ideas and beliefs with respect, grace, and kindness toward one another.  We hope you’ll find fellowship among those familiar to you and those whose experiences teach you something new about the world.

We hope you’ll choose courses, internships, international experiences, co-curricular activities, and friendship circles that enhance your understanding of yourself and make you feel part of an ever-broadening human community.

We wish you all our best for the fall semester.  And for those of you who will begin celebrating the Jewish New Year this evening, L’Shana Tova!

W. Rochelle Calhoun, Vice President for Campus Life
Cole Crittenden, Interim Dean of the Graduate School
Jill Dolan, Dean of the College