Club's choice reflects our drive to exclude
I'm taking advantage of my iron grip on the 187 square inches of newsprint glory that is the 'Prince' opinion page to record some thoughts on what now appears to me, in my post-Dean's Date haze of caffeine and sleep deprivation, to be the single most revealing news development that has occurred on campus this semester.
Local news took a turn for the surreal Monday, with the announcement that Campus Club will be going bicker next spring. From my vantage point, Campus stands out among the clubs for welcoming absolutely everyone, for eschewing status-consciousness and social posturing, and for really thriving on diversity. Most of its members have a trait that is valuable and regrettably rare at Princeton — they are unafraid to be different. Different from each other, and different from the rest of this University. Campus Club is, in many ways, quirkiness' last stand at Princeton.
Bicker has its pros and cons, as we've all thought about. The Campus members I know — a significant fraction of the club's modest total membership — pride themselves and their club on openness. For them to go bicker at the urging of their graduate board represents a major loss. As a club more open and welcoming than any other, they have expanded the population of the Street as a whole. They've got the socially independent people. They've got the nerds (a word I use as a compliment) including a huge proportion of the students winning top academic honors every year: Dan Hantman '03, Andre Kurs '04, Orion Crisafuli '03, Chris Wendell '03 and Vance Serchuk '00 are among the recent examples. And, this year, they embraced minority groups whose underrepresentation on the Street is a matter of concern to everyone.
It's not possible for a selective club to axiomatically welcome everyone the way Campus does (and has done for a long time, judging from news clippings in the 'Prince' office). The menu of Princeton social options is significantly impoverished by this change.
I can't blame the people who made the decision — membership numbers were a problem, and they had to make a change. When they looked around, and tried to figure out what it would take to increase their numbers, they came to a monumentally counterintuitive answer: start excluding students. The president of Campus' grad board explained that he thinks Princeton students are drawn to Bicker, and that going bicker will improve Campus' reputation. He is, I fear, probably right on both counts. The club has the smallest membership cap of any on the Street — as soon as a group of more than 50 try to join, some are bound not to go home happy.
If a Zen Buddhist, schooled in the art of deliberate contradiction, were asked to characterize Princeton's social scene, he might say: "Exclusion is inclusion."
I think it says something revealing about Princeton's social scene as a whole that smart people, trying to figure out how to preserve a Princeton student institution, decided their best strategy was to make it exclusive.
The way this campus is organized reflects a pervasive infatuation with selectivity and exclusion. Everywhere from singing groups to drama to SVC projects to campus tour guiding to the fraternities, sororities, secret societies, and yes, eating clubs, we struggle against each other. It's not enough to be good — we need to be better than the people around us. We want more than simple acceptance, which Campus so ably provided; We want superiority.
You might think we'd have enough already, attending the putative number one school in America; earning (or anyway, getting) an average GPA of 3.46; 53 percent of us finding jobs at banks and consultancies right after graduation. We're all doing so well by any objective measure that for us to feel the need to have our worth confirmed is completely absurd.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that an institution capable of rejecting 90 percent of all applicants ends up with students who are prone to focus on selection, promotion and competition as such. But even if not surprising, it is unfortunate. The counseling center is swamped, and hiring; 40 percent of undergraduates pay at least one visit before they graduate.
Our culture of exclusion is hurtful and wrong. Selection does happen everywhere, but what happens on this campus is a distorted caricature of the real world's selectivity.
David Robinson is a philosophy major from Potomac, Md. He can be reached at email@example.com
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