I was on the phone with a good friend of mine from back home, who is currently engineering palm trees or something over at Berkeley. She had been joking, of course. Our friendship hadn’t been terminated. But the idea that everyone at Princeton is snooty and elitist had been repeated to me enough times by people outside the Orange Bubble that I was beginning to grow worried.
Of course, when confronted, Princeton is quick to defend itself. A quick ream of statistics practically exists for the sole purpose of smothering that flame before it can grow any faster. There’s no way we’re exclusive! We’re (almost) equal parts male and equal parts female! More than half of the incoming freshman class graduated from a public high school! Eleven percent internationals! Forty-three percent ethnic minorities! Sixty percent on financial aid! Numbers! Statistics! Percentages!
When I brought this up to my friend, she was quick to brush me off. “Yeah, yeah. But that’s not what I’m talking about at all. It’s your eating clubs. I mean, you tell me. Are they elitist?”
This, of course, was fodder for a completely different argument. I had sort of registered in the back of my mind that the party culture at Princeton was really bizarre. But her comment brought to the surface all the things that I had already been casually complaining about.
“Well,” she said, when I asked her about her own bikini-and-white-sand-studded nights out. “I usually hit Frat Row around 11. My favorite is Delta Kappa Epsilon — they’ve got the good stuff. It’s not too hard to get in, and usually the party lasts till one or two.”
As I mulled this over, it occurred to me how different Princeton was in respect to this. Party culture here is so strange in that there’s so much moving around. On any given Thursday or Saturday night, people hit a pregame at 10:30pm, spend an hour or so shedding all traces of sobriety and then stumble all the way across campus to the Street at around midnight. At other schools, the party is the destination. Here, even the greatest dorm party in the world will only ever be a pitstop on the way to Prospect Avenue.
It’s also weird that fraternities and sororities (Am I allowed to mention them? Am I violating the freshman rush policy? Please don’t suspend me, Shirley Tilghman!) are pinned with fostering exclusivity here at Princeton when on the Street, you need to be put on a guest list to even try to show off your boxer-and-blazer best. What differentiates the eating clubs and frats apart from the fact that one uses an alphabet-soup naming strategy and other uses arbitrary words from the Dictionary of WASP? Other schools have fraternities and sororities to throw all the parties. Here, the eating clubs are supposed to suffice as far preferable alternatives. But if fraternities and sororities don’t need bouncers and guest lists and color-coded passes, but eating clubs do, why are they the far preferable alternative?
The point of passes is ... quite simply, to be exclusive. There is no other reason. And, okay, I understand that exclusivity looks different from the vantage point of a freshman than it does from the vantage point of a senior. I also understand the point of members-only nights and am in no way criticizing them. I get that hanging out with just your friends is cool sometimes and having to associate with random underclassmen who are discovering the wonders of alcohol for the first time can be annoying. But if other universities can be happy with communality at parties, surely we can be too. My point extends even further inward — if some clubs can be open to all undergraduates on nights that aren’t members-only, why can’t they all?
This degree of exclusivity is unwarranted. Princeton is a safe suburban town in New Jersey. The most vicious thing most Princetonians have ever seen on campus is a frisky squirrel. (Or maybe a diSiac-BodyHype throwdown? I keep hoping this will happen one day.) Vagabonds aren’t going to wander into the clubs and desecrate the silverware. That the exclusivity exists for the sake of exclusivity and nothing more is something to legitimately complain about. We’re all college students. It’s irritating to not be able to go out with a friend because you have a pass and they don’t, or vice versa. It’s irritating that bicker clubs are held to some higher degree simply because of their exclusivity. For all the financial aid offered by the school and equalizing opportunities given to underprivileged prospective freshmen, elitism still exists as that legacy girl whose older sister feeds her passes waltzes into a bicker club while the first-generation kid with no upperclassman friends stands outside, and waits.
Shruthi Deivasigamani is a freshman from Creskill, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/18/31559/