Every spring, numerous articles about Bicker are written both in this paper and other sources. We discuss whether the system is fair, whether it is outdated and what happens to the people who do not get into or join a club. However, one thing often neglected in the coverage is what happens to those sophomores who join and find themselves responsible for dues that they will struggle to or cannot pay. The Board thinks this is an aspect of the eating club system that is underaddressed.
In recent years, the Interclub Council has improved transparency with regard to dues. Official club dues, including sophomore dues, are published online with the hope that this will allow students to better plan for how they will pay. However, despite these efforts, the Board thinks that for some sophomores, factors such as the fast pace of spring semester, an appropriate focus on academics and extracurriculars or the uncertainty of Bicker can make it difficult for lower-income students to get together the payment in advance. Given this, the Board would like to offer a series of recommendations to the University and the eating clubs themselves that can help to make the eating club system more accessible, both for sophomores who join and struggle to pay and for those sophomores who cannot join at all because of the financial burden.
First, we think that the University could look at expanding financial aid available for sophomores who join eating clubs. Upperclassmen receive an increase in aid that is based on the difference in the cost of joining a club and staying on the University meal plan. This increase is designed to make joining a club an option for those on financial aid. The sophomore year dues that usually cover social fees, a club fee and a deposit for the fall can cost up to and even more than $1,000 depending on the club—but there is no financial aid available to help cover this burdensome sum. Given that the meals that sophomores receive are exchanges with their own dining hall meal plans, these sophomore club dues do not heavily go toward food. The University currently does not subsidize social fees of the upperclassman club members, and there is rightfully a debate to be had on the matter. However, we would like to advocate that the University and individual clubs look into creating funds, perhaps maintained by alumni donations, to help make the sophomore year eating club experience accessible to all students regardless of background. The Board suspects that there would be many alumni who would be willing to help current students have access to a system that is a large part of Princeton life for many Princetonians. Ivy Club already has such a scholarship system.
We also think that the clubs could look at ways to offset these costs. We realize that given the clubs’ nonprofit statuses, there may be legal issues with clubs establishing formal scholarships, but we think that the ICC should continue to work with the University to look for ways to make a scholarship fund a reality. Additionally, we suggest that the clubs look to distribute some of the sophomore dues to junior and senior years. The Board feels that even though this would make it harder for students to pay in later years, the increase in financial aid and the ability to use spring semester and summer to plan for the cost of dues would make it easier for students to afford club membership.
While there are debates to be had over the eating club system, the fact is that it is a large part of the University experience for many of our students. As long as the system exists as is, we have the responsibility to strive to make it financially accessible to all Princeton students. A student’s family income should not impact his ability to join a club, and we hope that the University and the ICC continue to look for ways to remove the barriers that prevent students from being a part of the eating club system, financial or otherwise.