I remember wanting to leave. One of us wanted to go to the University of Pennsylvania; another friend talked about going to school in Maryland. My friend and I would be at Duke by spring semester. I told a senior about our collective plans to transfer out of Princeton and he said: “Everyone says that freshman year; no one actually leaves.”
We weren’t special. We were only the latest in a lineage that felt some kind of discomfort and sought escape. The senior had thought the same thing his first semester. He tried to identify it like we did. We tried to root what we felt in parties that didn’t play music we liked, in very strange and palpably elitist traditions, in buildings with names of men who did not want us there. I had a transfer application open on my computer because I wanted one of my friends to see it and laugh. We knew we weren’t going anywhere, that we were lucky to be there; so we had been told. I remember telling it to myself. Sometimes I still do. And when later, we heard the same complaints, the same desires from other black underclassmen, I remembered what we were told our first year. That senior was right. None of us left.
Over the past few weeks, college students in the U.S. and abroad have turned into activists, demonstrating against racial injustice on their campuses. Critiques, of course, pursue these protests. A large portion focus on behaviors they term reckless. They single out Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike at the University of Missouri, a $1 million refusal by Mizzou’s football team, students at Princeton calling for the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus buildings, the demand for safe spaces on campus, or the demand for media-free safe spaces in public areas. The word used, though, is rarely “reckless.” It is “coddled,” “sensitive,” or plainly, “enough.”