“It’s really big. I mean, it’s like really, really big,” a prospective Princetonian exclaimed. “Like I think my high school could, like, fit into this building. What do they do with all this space?” she queried, twirling her bleached blond hair. She flounced off to catch a departing Orange Key Tour.
Surprisingly enough, this possible future Princetonian asks a question to which many on campus still haven’t found the answer. After all, most students visit at least once a day for a multitude of reasons. One can buy overpriced food in the Gallery or stale candy at the C-Store. There is the Mazo Family Game Room for Socially Inept Foreign Exchange Students. Orange Key Tours depart from the Welcome Desk. If you are a huge tool, the Student Government Offices are located on the second floor. And, for those Sheryl Crow fans out there, Café Viv offers a wide selection from The Best Of album, sometimes on perpetual repeat.
Yet none of these services or ideas truly embodies what Frist truly is, how it works, its mission, and all that deep, heavy stuff no one really wants to think about.
To understand Frist a little better, one needs to examine its roots. Before Frist became, well, Frist, the building was the Palmer Physical Laboratory. But, with some generous donations from the family of our nation’s Senate Majority Leader, the dream of a Princeton campus center that was actually “central” both in terms of location and mission to campus life became a reality. And so Palmer died. And Frist was born.
But the Frist today hasn’t always been that center we know and love. Rather, Frist has “grown” into its position on campus after initial uncertainty of the manifestation of the vision.
“When we first started, the campus center was just an idea,” Director of Frist Thomas Myers said. “I mean, we had a building, but no one, even ourselves sometimes, had a really firm grasp on this idea was that we were pursuing.”
Initially, Frist was supposed to be a glorified Chancellor Green – which was not only small, but also (for those students not living in Rocky or Mathey) somewhat out of the way. Yet, as successful ideas are wont to do, Frist blossomed and changed. “What Frist was and represented sort of grew as the years have gone by,” he said, eyes glowing. “During the first three or four years, we were just trying to educate people on ‘what’ Frist was, why Princeton needed something like Frist. I think I can safely say we did a good job.”
Myers has been working in and with Frist for almost six years now. Starting off as the associate director, he moved into the director spot a little over a year ago and has also assumed responsibility for University Scheduling – an agency on campus that arranges timetable for all non-academic space use and scheduling. Now celebrating the fifth year anniversary, Myers couldn’t be more proud of what Frist has become.
“When the class of 2004 graduated, we sort of graduated too,” he said with an almost paternal gleam in his eye. “They were the first class to have Frist in their lives from freshman to senior year. And when members of that class would say they couldn’t imagine Frist not existing,” he paused, straightening his tie, “well, I just found that very validating and nice.”
Some on campus, though, argue that Frist has its fingers in too many pies. Rumors constantly fly that Frist perpetually overreaches itself – that it is “taking over” campus, one Sheryl Crow song at a time.
“I feel like Frist is trying to become the ‘be all, end all’ for campus life,” Teo Quintana ’07 said. “It just has too many things going on, and I get this feeling of ‘Evil Empire’ whenever I see ‘Frist’ stuff around,” Quintana said, lighting up a cigarette outside his dorm. Although Quintana argues that Princeton needs a nucleus to revolve around and that Frist does a good job of providing this sort of “centering,” he feels those at Frist are extending their tentacles into territory in which they don’t belong.
“It’s the idea of having to go to Frist anytime I want something that disturbs me,” Quintana continued. “This entire system of centralization that Frist somehow has going on reminds me a little of 1984. I feel like one day we’ll wake up and there will be Frist video screens in our rooms, monitoring our every move,” Quintana stubbed out his cigarette, shrugging. “It sounds weird – but that’s the feeling I get.”
Luckily for Quintana and the rest of the Frist conspiracy-theorists out there, Frist and Myers, at least officially, have no such inimical intentions. Rather, Myers said, Frist is “simply a space” for things to happen.
But Frist seems to hold no boundaries.
It has become not only an integral part of the “academic” and “mundane” parts of campus life – including classes and food, but also now plays a relatively large role in the social scene. Through the Center Stage Program, Frist offers a wide variety of activities on throughout the week from MIMA SpinJazz sessions on Friday nights, to poetry readings, to movies, to Princetonian Idol. Although skeptics might argue that this is an overstep of boundaries (Frist officials did say they were “simply a space”), the real intention is quite different.
“Center Stage isn’t trying to take over campus life,” Center Stage Program Board Member Kyndall Parker ’06 said. “We aren’t anti-Street or trying to replace it or anything. We’re trying to be a supplement to the Street, so if you don’t feel like going out and getting wasted, you can go somewhere else and have just as a good a time.”
As Frist celebrates its fifth anniversary – replete with the requisite posters and scrolling marquee announcements, some may look on with dismay at what they see as the ‘collectivization’ of campus life. Some may sigh in regret and chagrin as Frist continues to grow and change, and unfortunately for them, it won’t be departing anytime soon. Rather, as the four-year residential colleges become reality, its role will probably expand rather than contract. This, though, isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. After all, campus would be somewhat hard to imagine without Frist. For better or worse – all that “space” will continue to shape Princetonians’ careers for many years to come. After all, the question still remains, just how much stuff can you do in a campus center?