Michelle Obama's Princeton Years

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Jun 17, 2008 9:47 PM
 A story about Michelle Obama is running here in the International Herald Tribune.

Because I arrived as a freshman on Princeton's campus the autumn after the spring when Michelle Obama graduated, I've always read the discussion of her college years with particular interest.  In the linked piece, two snippets particularly attracted my attention:

Some classmates resented blacks; some resented affirmative action. "Diversity can't be taken care of with 10 kids," [Michelle Obama] says. "There is an isolation that comes with that."
. . .
Black and white students rarely socialized. When Crystal Nix Hines became the first black editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, some black students wondered why she wanted to run a "white" newspaper. Obama, however, was thrilled that a historic barrier had fallen.

Certainly, Michelle preceded me on Princeton's campus, but if anyone --anyone -- "resented blacks" or "resented affirmative action," I certainly never saw any indications of it.  There were plenty of black students who lived, studied and partied where I did, and it was simply never an issue.

The piece delicately notes that Crystal Nix "became" the Prince's first black editor (actually, the top person was called the "Chairman" at the time).    She didn't just "become" Chairman . . . she was elected by all the staffers on the paper (including those who knew it meant that they would be working and "socializing" with her for up to 40 hours per week) during a rigorous day-long process.  And the position she won is perhaps the most influential post on the Princeton campus (the paper is completely independent of the university in ownership, editorial policy, and every other form of control).   Apparently, all the people who "resented blacks" or affirmative action weren't casting ballots that day.

No doubt there was some "isolation" on Princeton's campus from time to time.  I was a conservative there, and trust me, they were outnumbered more significantly than just about any racial minority.  Presumably in response to some of my writing in the Prince when I was its Editorial Chairman,  I received some nasty voice mails, the message board on my room door was torn down, rocks were repeatedly put in the caps to my car tires so that the tires deflated, some derogatory phrases were written with soap and lipstick on my car windows.  Clearly, if there was "resentment" on campus, it wasn't limited to black students.   And yes, it was difficult, and yes, it felt "isolating."

But the truth is that no matter where you go, the ignorant, the hateful and the bigoted will always be with us to some degree.  It's unfortunate, but it's also human nature.  And had I alerted the administration about some of what was going on, the people there would have worked feverishly to address the issue (so much so, in fact, that it contributed to my reluctance to speak up) -- and I have no doubt that their zeal would have been even greater to ensure that no minority in the Princeton community was being treated with anything but the utmost respect. 

Whatever the "isolation" Michelle Obama experienced there, Princeton in the '80's wasn't the the Jim Crow south.  Let's just set the record straight.