Award for Powell sparks debate on Princeton campus

Students appeared split on the legitimacy of the new Crystal Tiger Award and its first recipient.

By: Elyse Graham
   Although Secretary of State Colin Powell was honored by Princeton University students Friday with the new Crystal Tiger Award, students themselves appeared split on the legitimacy of both the award and its first recipient.
   The new award will be presented each year, according to the university, "by the undergraduates of Princeton University to an individual who has had a transformative impact on their lives."
   Many students were excited to host a prominent figure like Mr. Powell on campus. So many students vied for tickets to his lecture that the university distributed them by Internet lottery. The lottery’s Web site received so many hits that it almost crashed several times.
   Sophomore Matt Samberg was one of the few who won a ticket. Mr. Samberg said he was more interested in hearing Mr. Powell’s lecture than in the award presentation.
   "I didn’t even know (the Crystal Tiger Award) existed until I got there," Mr. Samberg said, but he said he was grateful the award drew Mr. Powell to the campus.
   While many students like Mr. Samberg expressed hope the award will attract other prominent figures to Princeton, others questioned the award’s legitimacy. A number of letters and columns submitted to campus publications protested the award’s description as being given "by the undergraduates" when the undergraduate student body, they said, was not consulted.
   The Crystal Tiger Award’s recipient was chosen by a committee consisting of one student from each undergraduate class. The students were selected by the university’s administration.
   Some students protested the limited selection process of the award itself, and others protested honoring Mr. Powell, whom they consider to have had a dishonorable role in the Iraq war.
   Mr. Samberg agreed the award’s selection "seemed kind of like a closed process," but he respected the committee’s decision.
   "I may not agree with some of Powell’s recent policies, but I think Colin Powell is a good person who has done a lot for the country and for the world," he said.
   Freshman Russell Barnes was chosen to represent his class on the award’s selection committee. He said Mr. Powell was among many figures considered for the award, including Nelson Mandela and U2 singer Bono.
   Senior Rishi Jaitly, who served as student coordinator of the award committee, said the award was designed for two purposes: to honor individuals who have had transformative impacts on the lives of Princeton undergraduates, and to bring valuable and memorable experiences to undergraduates through interaction with those individuals.
   Mr. Jaitly said that although Mr. Powell’s schedule restricted his time on campus, he did his best to interact meaningfully with students during his stay. The secretary attended a reception before his lecture, made reference to groups such as Princeton’s ROTC during the speech and answered audience questions afterward.
   The award committee expressed hope that future award recipients will be able to spend more time with students, perhaps attending more gatherings and speaking to classes.
   In response to charges that the award’s selection process was not inclusive, Mr. Barnes said limited student involvement was necessary to smooth the path of the award’s introduction.
   "It’s not easy to just start off something," Mr. Barnes said. "You have to do something to kind of get it off the ground. Next year, the process will be a lot more inclusive."
   Mr. Barnes also said the award was longer in creation than most students give it credit for.
   "We didn’t just sit up and say, ‘Hey, let’s give an award on behalf of the undergraduates this year.’ This has been a long process, with a lot of failures and a lot of successes."
   The Crystal Tiger Award was conceived of by two members of Princeton University’s Class of 2000, Lee Vartan and Michael Bosworth.
   Mr. Jaitly said he has served on the award committee since his freshman year and the committee has always intended to open committee participation to the entire undergraduate student body, but the unique circumstances of the award’s first presentation prompted it to temporarily limit committee membership.
   "The truth is," said Mr. Jaitly, "there were many points along the way of (the award’s) creation when we felt this idea was impractical and lacked any viability. To bring our struggles into the public eye would have been completely disastrous.
   "Colin Powell is the perfect recipient," Mr. Jaitly added. "Giving this award to such a worthy individual gives us a lot of momentum going into the future."