April 13, 2016

Anti-Semitic Beer Pong Shakes Community, Draws Strong Response 

As the town and the high school confront difficult questions about underage drinking, anti-semitism, and the effects of social media, the Princeton Police Department (PPD) continues to investigate last week’s “Nazis v Jews” beer pong incident, which involved a number of Princeton High School students.

“We are investigating who provided alcohol to the minors,” stated Lieutenant Jon Bucchere of the PPD. It is not a criminal violation for minors to possess and consume alcohol on private property, he added, so “many times these cases are hard to prove.” 

Nobody, according to Mr. Bucchere, has come forward as a victim in the incident, and there have been no charges of harassment or anti-semitism. The Police Department became aware of the incident on Friday when they received an anonymous tip. They continue to investigate and follow up on leads, but to prove criminal culpability they must have evidence of who provided the alcohol or of an adult who knowingly made available a place for underage drinking.

A photo of the beer pong game, showing seven high school students around a table, on which are numerous cans of Coors Light beer and cups arranged in a design of a swastika at one end of the table and a Star of David at the other, had been circulating on social media for several days.

This particular anti-semitic and “profoundly offensive” version of the beer pong drinking game has been around for at least five years, according to the Anti-Defamation League, its “over-the-top insensitivities” include allowing the “Jews” to hide one of their cups as the “Anne Frank” cup and the “Nazi” team to “Auschwitz” their opponents, requiring one of the players to temporarily sit out.

The School Board responded strongly to the incident, stating, “Princeton Public Schools do not tolerate prejudices of any kind. Clearly we have work to do. The issues we are presented with С bias, ethnic insensitivity, underage alcohol abuse, and inappropriate social media use С are neither new nor unique to Princeton, but this incident has brought them into sharp focus.

Though possible disciplinary consequences for the students involved remain confidential, The Board statement went on to say, “this incident raises difficult questions for all of us in the community about what we are teaching our children both in school and at home. As a district we will closely examine our efforts to address the root causes of these problems to ensure that the Princeton Public Schools remain first and foremost a place of tolerance and caring.”

School Superintendent Steve Cochrane stated that the administration was talking with those students involved and their families, and at the same time was “focused on the lessons this incident has for all of us.” Emphasizing that “as a community we all have a role in teaching our children to make good decisions, to be legally responsible, and to be respectful members of a diverse society,” he said “an incident such as this one forces us to take a look at our efforts in educating our children in the values that may be most important to their success in life.”

Pointing out the high school’s commitment “to take care of our students and to teach important lessons,” Principal Gary Snyder stated, ”Our students, faculty, and community are hurt. We are in a restorative process that will require time to address the varying degrees and reasons for pain. Our process will be one of education on the following topics: underage drinking; specifically, Holocaust education, and, more broadly, education on all areas of diversity; the use of social media; and the topic of civic discourse on complicated issues.”

Mr. Snyder went on to point out, “Unfortunately, we are in a negative light, but our strength as a school has always been our reliance on educational discourse to see us through difficult days.”

High School social studies teacher Jeff Lucker will address the implications of the incident in his classroom. ”The issue of Holocaust education is one of great interest and concern to me,” he said, noting that “the Holocaust, underage drinking, and the use and abuse of social media definitely require discussion.”

Mr. Lucker plans to “universalize the issues in his discussions with his students, rather than dwelling on particulars of the beer pong incident.” Last Friday, however, “with the TV trucks within sight on Moore Street,” Mr. Lucker explained to his students why the discussion would be postponed. “With feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and embarrassment running so strong, I felt it was an atmosphere in which even the most well-intentioned comments could be easily misconstrued and misrepresented. As I told them, ‘There is a time and a place; this is the place, but not the right time.’”

In a widely circulated blog post, high school junior Jamaica Ponder decried the incident and criticized the students involved, “Putting the picture on social media means that someone was proud enough of the game to want to show it off,” the blog stated. “Meaning that they must be trapped in the delusional mindset that making a drinking game based off of the Holocaust is cool. Or funny. Or anything besides insane. Because that’s what this is: insanity.”

Princeton Council President Lance Liverman has announced that a Host Liability Forum, focusing on the problem of underage drinking, is scheduled for May 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the meeting room of the municipal building. “It’s an entire country issue,” Mr. Liverman stated. “It happens all over. If you’re a parent, and it happens in your home and you’re aware of it, that’s a problem. People hosting — that’s what we’re trying to impact. Also, I’m not sure these kids understood historically what they were doing.”