Having been Beverage Chair of Campus Club for the past year, I have had the uncommon experience of watching from the inside as an eating club died. As someone who spent a great deal of his junior year at the club, who was an officer during its last year and who poured much time and energy into the club, losing Campus has been a great personal loss. The implications of Campus' demise, however, extend farther than the hearts and stomachs of its 30 former members and its many alumni. The problems that troubled Campus are relevant to every student at this University; Campus was merely the canary in Princeton's mineshaft.
One problem that plagued Campus was self-segregation. About half of Campus' members were African-Americans or members of the Black Student Union, and most of the remaining half were members of the Princeton University Band. In its last years, Campus was — as many would put it — the club of "band geeks and black people." This stereotype decreased the number of people interested in joining or even simply hanging out at the club. The people who did venture inside Campus found free food (how many other eating clubs have food out on Thursday and Saturday nights?) and what was almost certainly the widest selection of beverages on the Street. But, in general, the only people who bothered to party at Campus were Campus members. By the end, due in part to this inability to attract other people, the stereotype of Campus members had almost become reality.
That a sign-in club should be in a tough position in terms of membership is not unusual, but Campus' decline was accelerated by issues of class and money. Campus was the smallest club on the Street. During my sophomore spring, only about 25 people joined the club. When I returned in September for my junior year, I found that more than one-quarter of the people in my bicker class were no longer members. For a club as small as Campus, this was deadly. Many of our losses, I'm fairly certain, were for economic reasons. Campus had a significant number of members for whom the cost of a club was a financial burden.
Many friends of mine cannot participate in the central feature of Princeton's social life because they cannot afford it. This situation is unacceptable. An institution as blatantly classist (at least in a de facto sense) as the eating club system simply would not fly at many of our peer institutions. The students would not stand for it and neither would the administration. And the class divide associated with the Street is not getting any better; in a few years, it will get far worse.
When the four-year residential colleges open, students will have a much cheaper alternative for dining with other upperclassmen. Students who can afford to join clubs will still join clubs. Many clubs have a strong membership base or a large endowment; the four-year residential college system won't destroy the Street. Slowly but surely, however, the clubs that remain will fill with the people who are willing to pay seven or eight thousand dollars a year, while the residential colleges become home to those who cannot.
The economics of the Street are fairly simple. Underclassmen party at the clubs for free. The clubs' funds come from members who took advantage of the clubs in their own underclass days. When the exodus from the Street starts occurring — which it has already, with more and more options for independent students — the clubs' income will drop. This is a recipe for either climbing club costs or a more exclusive club scene. Either situation will only exacerbate the existing financial divide on campus and be detrimental to Princeton's social environment.
Campus Club's demise shows the power of the social and economic problems at Princeton. A few years down the line, I would not be surprised if other sign-in clubs join the ranks of defunct clubs while the bicker clubs stay strong, attracting the students who can afford them. The Street is already elitist and it is becoming more so. Every student who wants to join an eating club should be able to join one. Until the University and the ICC work together to find a way to make this possible, Princeton will remain a sorry excuse for progressive social values. Matthew Samberg is a philosophy major from Southborough, Ma. He is the former beverage chair of Campus Club.
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