Gratitude Is What’s Missing in the Ivy League

May 23, 2024 4 min read

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PFS original content
Khoa Sands ‘26

Excerpt: Last week, The New York Times published an article Why Antiwar Protests Haven’t Flared Up at Black Colleges Like Morehouse. As President Biden prepared to give the commencement address at Morehouse, students remained sharply divided about his presence on campus. Like many colleges in the country, students are angry about the ongoing Israel–Hamas War in Gaza, and the role of the United States in supporting Israel. However, as The New York Times reports,

           While anger over the war remains palpable at Morehouse and other           
           historically Black colleges and universities, these campuses have
           been largely free of turmoil, and tensions are far less evident: no
           encampments, few loud protests, and little sign of Palestinian flags
           flying from dorm windows.

It is well-reported that Biden’s support of Israel has endangered the once-strong alliance between the African American community and the Democratic Party. Given these national tensions, one might expect Morehouse and other HBCUs to be hotbeds of pro-Palestinian activism – but this is not the case. Why?

According to Walter Kimbrough, a former president of Dillard University (another HBCU) quoted by the Times, “Your student body at Columbia is very different than the student body at, say, Dillard. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t concerned. But they understand that they have some different kinds of stakes.”

Cedric Richmond, a Morehouse graduate and DNC senior advisor remarked that “The Morehouse College graduation, at least as I remember it, is a very solemn event. You have almost 500 African American males walking across that stage, whose parents and grandparents sacrificed and those students worked their butts off to, one, get into Morehouse, and two, to graduate. That’s a very significant day. And I’m just not sure whether students or protesters are going to interfere with that solemn moment.”

The relationship between students and the institution is thought of differently at Morehouse than at the Ivy League colleges, including Princeton. In The New York Times’s report, many students and university affiliates felt a sense of respect towards the institution and themselves for overcoming personal and social barriers to graduate, many of them the first in their families to do so.

Princeton and peer institutions, on the other hand, tend to enroll a high percentage of students with parents who have graduated from elite institutions. Most students are from the upper middle class or upper class. And attending and graduating from an elite college, for many, is conceived of as an expectation rather than a privilege. Might this impact the different attitudes towards protest against the university?

When attending and graduating from an elite university is conceived of as a deserved right, gratitude and responsibility are lost. The university must accede to the demands of the students, simply because being a student at the university is thought of as an innate right. What is missing in the Ivy League is a sense of responsibility. Being a student carries with it a responsibility towards the institution and one's family and supporters. No one has a right to be accepted to a school like Princeton. Studying at Princeton is a privilege granted to a very select few. As students, we should approach our studies and the immense resources and opportunities we are granted with an attitude of gratitude for this privilege. Likewise, no student does it alone. We are all supported by a large network of family, friends, teachers, coaches, and other supporters who got us to where we are today.

The right to free speech is inalienable and must be protected. But we must reflect on why we place such importance on the right to free speech in the first place. In the public sphere, free speech is essential to democratic self-governance – citizens of a free society must be able to express themselves on issues that affect them. While this is also true in the academy, academic free speech has another purpose in the university: the pursuit of truth. In order to preserve and protect the truth-seeking mission of the university, scholars must be able to freely express themselves. However, as Princeton’s own code of conduct notes, rights imply responsibilities. Citizens of a democratic republic enjoy the rights of freedom and are tasked with the responsibility to uphold the republic through virtuous self-governance. Likewise, students of a university enjoy the rights of free speech and are tasked with the responsibility to pursue truth and knowledge. While the right of academic freedom extends to protest, students must strive to act in accordance with their responsibility as students which follows from the guarantee of that right.

To whom much is given, much is expected. As Princeton students, we have been given a great privilege thanks to the help of many supporters. We are here for a reason and have been given much for a reason – to pursue knowledge and truth. The rights and privileges we enjoy come with responsibilities to ourselves, our families and supporters, and to the university. How then, should students approach their time at Princeton? Gratitude is a good place to start.

Khoa Sands ‘26, a PFS Writing Fellow, is the President of the Senate of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society and a Vice President of the Princeton Human Values Forum.

1 Response

John Harbold
John Harbold

May 27, 2024

Great insight and completely on point. Gratitude is essential to goodness!
Bless you and keep defending Truth!
Class of 1977

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