David Mendelsohn ’12 wrote an article in the Daily Princetonian about his bicker experience. It seems appropriate to put it on this blog because it accurately represents a common (if not the most widely-held) position on the Street’s bicker process. Here is one excerpt:
“I had never meant to bicker. As a prefrosh visiting the school, I scoffed at the idea that someone would actually choose to expose themselves to a selection process. After all, wasn’t applying to college enough? Isn’t there enough pandering to be done once it comes time to apply for internships, grad schools and jobs? Why would we unnecessarily expose our peers to even more selectivity and rejection? The fact that eating clubs at Princeton were even able to sustain the Bicker system was completely beyond me. As a prefrosh, it was a given that I would choose one of the sign-in clubs when the time came.”
If you click on this next link, you will be able to see some of the comments on the article. These, too, reflect commonly held positions on the bicker process. The claims made in these comments are similar to those made on any article about eating clubs: some say that exclusivity is a part of life, others say it shouldn’t have to be one at Princeton, and still others express the opinion that the University’s social life issues are blown way out of proportion. Though the debate itself continues in the same way every time, the fact that it comes up with seemingly every article on eating clubs gives me the impression that it has not been settled so much as it has settled. Throughout eating-club-related articles, the idea remains that things are the way they are, which is the way they always have been, and that is that. Are we dully dissatisfied with the status quo, but not sure how to change it? Or is Princeton’s student body just fine with the way the bicker process works here?
But read the article and the comments. Also, if you would like to know about the whirlwind history of the eating clubs, from way back in the mid-1800s, check out the Eating Clubs Task Force’s summary here. And of course, leave comments!
I’m not the type to take anything seriously so perhaps asking my opinion about attitudes towards the eating clubs isn’t the best idea. However, I’ve been asked so I may as well give it.
I personally think it’s stupid to make any sort of deal out joining an eating club, let alone as big a one as you two are making of it. This isn’t something that, as you described it, “Is just happening.” I am willing to venture a guess that many sophomores have put a very significant amount of time into determining which club they are joining—almost as much as they put in to determining which subject to concentrate in.
The only difference with this is, and I concede the point here, there exists an implicit moratorium about speaking of how one comes to this decision. I’ve made a sweeping claim or two so far so allow me to backtrack and narrow my scope a little bit.
I personally am choosing Terrace. I didn’t just decide this randomly. Over the course of the last 1.5 years, I’ve spent an average of 1.4 nights a week per semester as the eating clubs, with an average staying time of circa 2 hours. That means I’ve at least spent 18 hours x 3 semesters = 54 hours at the eating clubs. During those 3.25 days, I was doing research—talking with members (prospective and current), exploring the various rooms and getting an up close, in depth feel for each club. For various reasons, none of the other clubs appeal to me as much as the one closest to campus.
The reasons I personally don’t like talking about how I came to my decision are 1) I don’t like creating things for myself to worry about when I have enough on my plate as it is, 2) My mind’s been made up since the end of the first semester last year, 3) I’m just not a serious person, and 4) (This is the most important one) I think it’s extremely obvious how both I and many other sophomores came to our decisions.
We don’t trumpet our eating club choices to the heavens because it’s just not how things work here. For the same reason people don’t walk around comparing grades point averages or SAT scores, we don’t talk about eating clubs. I also feel it’s not a big deal to many sophomores because they’ve already decided on the topic—it’s like talking to your friends about which college you’re going to matriculate to well into July of your freshman year. You’ve already decided. You’ve already experienced the mental anguish. You’ve drawn up the pro and con lists. You’ve made the Venn diagrams. You’ve thrown the darts at the brochures pinned on your wall. You’ve done all this a thousand times and you’ve committed yourself—why keep beating a dead horse? It’s not a big deal because (excuse the tautology) it’s not a big deal. Are you still worrying about which writing seminars to rank? No, because you did that last year, it’s boring, no one cares.
To end my circuitous rant, I’d just like to say that most people have put a lot of effort into determining where they are joining. They’ve a lot of put blood, sweat and four lokos into the decision-making process and they’re done. As am I. #rant
My mind changes constantly. I was definitely independent, then I was definitely signing into ____ and now I’m thinking about bickering ____ and having ____ as second choice.*
I think we’ve been given plenty of time, but not necessarily many options. The clubs that I’ve had (or have not) had access too hasn’t changed much since I was a freshman and my perception of them has only changed slightly. I wish I could be able to explore all the clubs in depth. It’s also a bit annoying to have success in bicker be somewhat dependent on your connections prior to bicker. Maybe that’s too much of a Utopian outlook to want everyone to be open to new people/randos, etc., but I find myself a bit discouraged from “branching out” into new territory because of the groups that may have formed way before I got there.
I also despise the “do what your friends are doing” idea more or less because of the concern stated above. Maybe its because I prefer to ride solo instead of in a group, but the idea of a group of friends going a club and continuing to stay a group a friends is great for them, but not so great for people who were hoping to form new connections.
I also take serious issue with the fact that a club is really the only major way to meet people. I personally am not that hype on the clubs and would much rather take the money and eat at Ivy Garden every day. However, I’ve decided to forgo some of that cash to be in an eating club for about a semester/year or so and then drop out. Why? Because the one thing that made me really excited to go to college was the opportunity to meet and form bonds with diverse groups of people. Ironically enough, this is the one thing Princeton seems totally incapable to provide for its students.
As I’ve been giving the clubs a try and slowly but surely making new friends, I find that once I’m able to make a friend, I automatically make three. That person introduces me to someone and if I hit it off with my new new friend I make two more new new new friends. Before I know it I have a nice little handful of people that I not only like, but also have the potential to see everyday. That’s pretty cool, I guess, but should I really be forced to pay $7000-$9000 extra dollars a year to do what I should be able to do for free? HELL TO THE NO!
*Names of clubs have been blanked out to retain the element of surprise.
Hey Sophomore Friends,
First off, congratulations on reaching the halfway point!
I remember the spring of my sophomore year as one of the best times in my Princeton experience in large part because of the decisions I had before me. The three big decisions were, deciding where to live (Forbes as a RCA), what major to pursue (anthropology), and of course, what eating club to join (Quad). The last decision was the most stressful and came down to the last minute. I knew that I did not want to Bicker and my decision basically came down to two clubs (ask me later if you’d like to know the other one).
Basically, I’d like to share with you five tips concerning the selection process that I would have loved to know as a sophomore:
1. Join the club in which you feel the most at home: As an upperclassman, the a significant portion of your time will be spent at the eating club that you decide to join – for the next two years, you will have most of your meals in one location. It is a good idea to make sure that you’re comfortable with almost very aspect of the club, especially the membership and food. Additionally, be sure to consider the additional facilities – i.e. hangout spots, study locations, computer labs, etc. One more thing: your club is going to be the first place you come back to as an alumni…
2. There are pro and cons to joining the same club as your friends: A lot of people decide to join the same club as their friends (when I say friends, I’m talking about a group of 3-4 people) – there are both positives and negatives aspects to this process. Pros: joining the same club as your friends ensures that you’ll regularly have a core group of people to eat with and (in my opinion) this is especially desirable in certain clubs. Con: Joining a different club than your core group forces you to interact with new people and thus make new friends. Keep this in mind, with meal exchanges as a junior or senior, you will be able to eat at any club in which your friends are members at almost any given meal.
3. Look out for the club’s officer core: An eating clubs’ officer core is responsible for taking care their members, i.e. you. Ideally, as a member, you’ll want to join a club whose officers are friendly, visible in the club, accessible, and receptive to your concerns/criticisms. Ultimately, the officers are the individuals that are responsible for the operation and direction of the club, including the food, parties, formals, dues and a multitude of other factors – they are the people you’ll need to go to if you’d like to see any change in your club.
4. Before you sign-in or bicker, do your best to learn about “sophomore status” within your club: In general, sophomore dues total up to be a few hundred dollars and a limited number of meals each week; however, the dues and sophomore membership benefits vary from club to club. For instance, certain clubs may allow sophomores to bring guests to houseparties whereas other may not. Just as a rule of thumb, I think it’s a good thing to know what your getting for your money – you might even decide to delay your membership until junior year (which is practical for some clubs more than others).
5. It’s cool to change your mind: In the world of eating clubs, nothing is permanent. It’s cool to join a club sophomore year and reconsider your options come junior year. For instance, it is common for people who are rejected from a Bicker club to join a sign-in club for their sophomore spring and then participate in fall bicker next September/October. Another instance, is that individuals switch between sign-in clubs. Basically, there is no reason why you should remain a member of a club in which you’re unhappy.
I hope this helps! One last thing, it’s not our clubs that define us, but rather who we define ourselves to be.
1. “I want to bicker, but I don’t want to not make it because I made too much noise.”
2. “Why are we having this conversation in September? We have four months to think about this.”
3. “It’s not like they’re lemmings, or something…I mean, these are Princeton students.”
5. “Choosing to bicker might have been made easier by the fact that I’ve spent my entire life semiconsciously filtering my friends on superficial bases.”
6. “Did get hosed. Best thing that ever happened to me at Princeton.”
7. “Don’t we have this conversation every year?”
8. “Sh_t…I kind of pity you for wanting to bicker.”
10. “Agreed. It doesn’t really matter. Well, eating with your friends does matter, but face it, you can do more things with your friends than eat. And if you don’t believe me, fine, just get them to sneak you in. Same thing but you don’t pay.”
11. “Let’s see… people I know in Cap…”
I get the distinct sense that talking too much about eating clubs is awkward, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. After a conversation with a good friend of mine, I’ve realized why. It’s because, in the end, everything’s going to work out just fine. In the end, you’ll make a decision about where you’re going to eat, meet some new people, and probably still graduate in two years. From that perspective, talking about eating clubs is short-sighted and almost ridiculous. There are more important things.
But this long-run, wizened and worldly perspective obscures the simple fact that the next few weeks are going to be a social upheaval, pure and simple. The friends you saw in the dining hall every other day and greeted with a hug or a handshake, could very easily become the friends that you “haven’t seen in such a long time,” and who you ask such pleasantries as “how are you?” Even though you’ll make other friends, this isn’t going to be any less annoying in the short-run.
There are, therefore, consequences to approaching eating clubs from the attitude that “I’m just going to be chill about it.” The long-term view makes that attitude a plus; you spend next to no time worrying about a problem that won’t be a problem very soon. The short-term view makes it a problem. You can’t talk too your friends and your acquaintances about eating clubs without being seen as some sort of worrywart, which is decidedly not chill, and not being chill certainly won’t get you past the bicker committee. Another consequence is that anyone who isn’t sure of what they’re doing is put off by how everybody else just came to their decision with such little deliberation, and would feel uncomfortable trying to talk to them about it.
Think about how much better it could be if we had real conversations about bicker, sign-in, independent, co-ops, etcetera. We wouldn’t have to make it so awkward a year from now when we see the people who used to be our best friends, because we had long since discussed that “next year, we probably won’t see as much of each other. Call me in September and we’ll figure out a way to hang out.”
In sum, if we behave like everything’s going to work out fine because it’s too awkward to have the conversations that will make everything work out fine, then… everything will probably be fine in the end. But it won’t be as good as it could have been.