Let’s talk about bicker
Students interviewed for this story were granted anonymity to freely discuss sensitive personal matters. Their names have been changed.
One year ago, Audrey was hosed after bickering Tower. “It definitely sucked,” Audrey admitted, referencing the first few weeks after being hosed. But Audrey doesn’t seem to harbor any resentment or regret about her spring Bicker experience. She re-bickered Tower this past fall and said she is now a proud member. “When you fall bicker, you don’t miss out on anything. You miss a few meals here and there, but as soon as you [get in], you’re a full member,” Audrey said. “I don’t feel a difference between people who got in during the spring or the fall.”
Many upperclassmen like Audrey have run the gauntlet of the Bicker process and come out intact on the other side. Whether it was re-bickering in the fall or signing into one of Prospect’s five sign-in clubs, these students found homes along the Street despite disappointing first experiences. But the atmosphere of apprehension and anxiety that surrounds the first week of second semester suggests that not many sophomores are looking to do this a second time. The pressure to succeed is enormous, which makes failure all the more devastating.
Butler sophomore Phoebe will bicker Cottage. “It’s pretty much where my whole crowd is,” Phoebe said, “so I want to be able to eat with them.” A member of Theta, Phoebe has several sorority sisters who first connected her to Cottage. Although she said she loves the people and sense of belonging in Cottage, Phoebe could not say she was looking forward to the bicker process: “I just don’t really like those small-talk situations. I’d rather just not have the pressure and just hang out with people.”
The fact of the matter is that Bicker is designed around small talk and fast-paced activities. When asked about Bicker advice she had received from upperclassmen, Phoebe replied, “Have a short story and a joke prepared. Talk to as many people as you can.” Although Phoebe said she tries not to put too much pressure on herself with regard to the outcome of Bicker, she understands the importance of making a good first impression. “This is going to be annoying,” she said. “I have to put up a front of being really social.”
With so many sophomores receiving advice similar to Phoebe’s — to craft a winning fun fact and an instantly charming demeanor — it would seem difficult for anyone to feel comfortable being themselves during Bicker. Joe, a junior, recalled that his upperclassmen friends compiled a “How to Bicker” guide before he began Cap & Gown Bicker last spring. He said the stress of making a lasting positive impression wore on most of Joe’s friends. After leaving a Cap Bicker session last spring, Joe’s friends began to beat themselves up over how the session had gone: “ ‘Every single person was going, ‘Oh man, I should have said this’ or ‘I should have made this joke here,’ ” Joe said. “I said, ‘You guys didn’t have fun?’ and they were like, ‘No.’ ”
Joe said his personal Bicker philosophy was to have fun with it. He felt that everyone around him was taking the process far too seriously. “They were spending nine hours only trying to impress people,” Joe said of his fellow bickerees. “I spent those nine hours trying to enjoy myself.” While Joe had an incredibly positive Bicker experience, he said he didn’t feel he had the same amount of connections that other sophomores had already established. Joe had not been able to go out to Cap much during his sophomore fall. “I felt at a starting disadvantage for Bicker,” Joe said. “Everyone had been bickering for a whole semester already.”
Joe echoed a sentiment that many going through the Bicker process have expressed — it’s not necessarily how well you do during Bicker, but who you know going into the process that matters. “Sophomore year is when you’re supposed to be going out and playing the game — kissing up to everybody and getting your name known,” Joe said.
Despite feeling pretty confident in his performance during Bicker, Joe walked away from Cap empty-handed. “The morning of pickups, we woke up at 7,” Joe recalled. “We were waiting there and when the door opened and we saw four of our friends walk in, I went, ‘Oh no.’” Having not put down a second-choice club, Joe spent that semester “forcibly independent,” as he described it. He did not return to Cap that semester.
Joe’s morning of pickups mirrors the experience of hundreds of other students across campus. Over the course of pickups morning, sophomores and juniors nervously await the results of a week’s worth of hard work. Fearing the worst for themselves and for their friends, students can do nothing but sit and wait.
The same morning Joe was hosed from Cap, Roger, a junior, was waiting to find out if he had made it into Tiger Inn. “A lot of people on my hall were all waiting on pickups,” Roger said. “We saw members walking down [the hall]. I saw two of my teammates, and I knew they were coming for me.”
Roger followed one of his teammates out into the hall to talk. “I really hate to have to say this,” his teammate said, “but you didn’t get into T.I.” Roger’s teammate continued on to say, “Know that everyone on the team loves you. We all fought and argued for you in discussions, but it just didn’t happen.” Roger understood the difficulty of the task that had been given to his friend. “It’s kind of shitty for them too,” Roger said. “They feel bad about it.”
Indeed, Bicker takes an emotional toll on club members and bickerees alike. After hours of Bicker, discussions, voting and speeches, members end the week on a note of physical exhaustion and emotional vulnerability. Having to hose close friends on top of everything else is one stressor too many. By the time pickups actually begin, members and bickerees have already been driven to their emotional breaking points.
Roger went back to T.I. as soon as the club opened up to non-members, but he said his nights out felt a little off. “It took a while to go back to normal,” Roger said. “It was difficult being there, knowing that I hadn’t gotten in.” He said what cut deepest were the moments when T.I. members began to do their club chant. Roger said he felt a sense of disappointment at not being able to participate in club tradition. “During the first two years when people were chanting in T.I., I had this idea like, ‘Alright, I’ll be quiet now, but in a few years I’m going to get in and I’m going to get to do that,’ ” Roger said. Now he will never get the chance.
Although Roger said he struggled with being hosed, he maintains a positive outlook on Bicker. “Overall, I think I’m glad that I bickered in the first place, and pretty okay that I didn’t get in,” Roger said. “I really like where I am now.” Roger is currently a member of Terrace Club.
This year, Terrace saw a record 183 first-round sign-ins. Sophomore Ian signed into Terrace and seemed confident in his decision not to bicker. “It seems like a pretty big hassle to bicker,” Ian said. “A lot of people were really anxious about the process, and I didn’t really want to deal with that.” Though his older friends advised him to try Bicker at least once, Ian said he didn’t understand the appeal. “People seem to derive a lot of worth from that judgment,” he said. “I wasn’t cool with subjecting myself to that.”
Ian signed in with several of his friends and said he is looking forward to being a Terrace member. When asked what he was looking for in his eating club, Ian responded, “A place I can go to that I feel comfortable in, that almost seems like a second home where you can hang out with your friends.” But Ian did maintain reservations about the eating club system as a whole. “[Eating clubs] encourage people to sort of fall into boxes,” Ian said. “I think that’s a problem.”
Terrace’s first-round popularity meant the club was forced to close itself off to any second-round sign-ins. With the loss of Terrace as a viable fall-back plan, students are feeling an increased pressure to do well during Bicker. Charter Club is also not a second-choice option for bickerees, as the club operates on a weighted sign-in system that demands sustained sophomore interest. Only Colonial, Quadrangle and Cloister Clubs remain possible second-choice options for students bickering this semester.
With two sign-in clubs out of the mix, the stakes are high for students to get into their bicker clubs on the first go. The advent of multi-club Bicker, which can be used to improve a student’s probability of getting into at least one club, has been met with praise as well as skepticism. Phoebe does not expect that multi-club Bicker will be entirely positive. “I feel like it’s going to be an unintentionally negative thing,” Phoebe said. While the policy of multi-club Bicker states that students who bicker one club will have no advantage over students who bicker two, Phoebe remained uncertain about how the practice will play out. “Clubs are going to be like, ‘We’re not going to penalize you for doing it,’ ” she said. “But if they find out you’re not totally for them, then that’s just going to be an automatic ‘Okay, well you’re not one of our top picks.’ ”
In spite of the anxiety and pressure felt by a majority of her peers, Phoebe said she remains grounded. “It’s not that big of a deal if you don’t get in,” she said. “Life goes on.”
For those going through the bicker process currently, it’s hard to see anything past Saturday morning. But for Audrey, Joe and Roger, life did go on. “I would have done nothing differently,” Joe said. “I had much more fun than anyone else during the process.” Echoing that same sentiment, Audrey said, “I’m really glad I re-bickered. I’m very happy.”