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The Undergraduate Student Government released the Eating Club Accessibility Report last week, which has proposed several recommendations regarding transparency of events, eating club costs in relation to financial aid and information about eating clubs and other dining options.

The motivation for the project was to understand how eating clubs relate to other entities, in terms of their social, dining and financial aspects, Aleksandra Czulak ’17, one of the project leaders and USG Vice President, said.

Czulak said that the project started last fall when Shawon Jackson ’15 was USG president.

A survey was sent out to students in the December 2014 in conjunction with town hall meetings, and another survey was sent out in the spring of 2015, she said.

USG used the data from a 2010 University Task Force on the eating clubs and the new information collected from the 2014-2015 surveys to understand why they were seeing the same issues and if there was anything that could be done, she explained.

“Eating clubs aren’t just an eating club entity; they affect many different parts of your life on campus,” Czulak said.

Although around 70 percent of students are involved in eating clubs, the survey revealed differences in age and year affected how students related and engaged with eating clubs, Czulak explained. She added that USG is working on increasing the visibility of eating clubs, as well as other dining options, such as independent options, residential college dining and co-ops.

In contrast to the original University survey, the USG survey included comment boxes, Czulak noted.

“We really wanted to hear and see a holistic view of the eating clubs,” Czulak said.

She also said that the USG has worked closely this year with the Interclub Council, an organization consisting of the presidents of each of the eleven eating clubs, a graduate advisor, Spencer Jones, and a university official, Assistant Dean in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students Bryant Blount ’08.

Blount did not respond to a request for comment.

Transparency of information, interaction between underclassmen and eating clubs

Eighty percent of respondents from the Class of 2017 and 40 percent from the Class of 2018 said that they had had at least one meal in one of the eating clubs during the 2015-2016 academic year. Suggestions for improvement included meal exchange programs with Late Meal and more visibility for sophomore meals in the eating clubs.

One of the goals of the ICC is to work on the relationship between underclassmen and eating clubs and identify the best practices that clubs can enact to help students access clubs, ICC president and Charter Club president Jean-Carlos Arenas ’16 said.

He added that transparency involves improving outreach in order to have underclassmen feel like they know a lot about the clubs and go into a process of selecting with the appropriate information.

Quadrangle Club president Mitch Shellman ’16 said that the ICC has been talking about being more upfront and open. Shellman explained that the Quadrangle Club has been sending out weekly updates and emails to the residential college listservs notifying students of their events.

“We try to be as open as possible, while still respecting member space,” Shellman said.

Czulak explained that one key initiative the USG Senate, University and the ICC are working on is to get key information about dining options to sophomores earlier. Instead of releasing information in January like last year, information will be available in December, Czulak said.

This way, students can go home and talk to their parents about their options over winter break instead of trying to explain over the phone in January, Czulak explained.

The USG is also working on an initiative to introduce freshmen to eating clubs outside of night hours, Czulak said. In the spring, the ICC and the USG are discussing having an appetizer sampling event for freshman on the Street, so that freshmen can go to any eating club and see the inside of eating clubs during the daytime.

This would “de-stigmatize” the idea that eating clubs are only social options during freshman year, Czulak said, noting that as freshmen and sophomores, students do not really see eating clubs as a dining option.

Ivy Club president Eliza Mott ’16said that people have misconceptions about the clubs — that they have weird admissions policies or are not welcoming to sophomores — when in reality, all the clubs ultimately want the widest variety of people.

“We all have the same goal getting rid of these misconceptions and hopefully improving the process for sophomores,” she said.

Mott noted that the ICC has decided that each club will put up information specifically about their admissions process (whether sign-in or bicker) on their websites, but not until closer to the actual bicker time. She added that it is definitely important to know how the process works beforehand, but that it would be better that people do not worry about it for too long.

“This year might be one of the first years that someone could just go on the website, see all the different events, and go to any of them,” Mott said.

Financial aid

Another project USG is working on is to make the financial aid aspect of dining more accessible and more available to students, according to the report.

The financial cost of eating clubs was an important consideration for over 30 percent of upperclassmen in the Classes of 2016 and 2015 who did not join an eating club, according to the report. The percentage of upperclassmen indicating that financial costs were important was higher for non-eating-club upperclassmen than for upperclassmen in sign-ins, and higher for upperclassmen in sign-ins than upperclassmen in bicker clubs, the report said.

Students on financial aid get an automatic $2,000 raise in their overall financial aid package between their sophomore and junior year to cover increased expenses of whatever upper-class dining options they choose, Shellman explained.

When asked if the increased $2,000 for students on financial aid was sufficient to help cover the costs of eating clubs, upperclassmen mostly expressed that the increase was sufficient; however, approximately 25 to 55 percent of students responded with “N/A,” and the report suggests that this may be due to students not having a particularly strong opinion or felt that the $2,000 was insufficient.

Czulak said she was surprised to see that in the comments section, many students reported that a $2,000 increase in financial aid was still not enough to cover the costs of the eating club, and cost still remains a barrier for students who cannot afford it.

She also noted that many students are unaware that there are sophomore dues. She said she could see this affecting the demographics of each club. When considering the diversity of eating clubs, it is important to recognize who can afford the sophomore dues, she added.

“If a student can’t afford the sophomore dues, then it’s already limiting who’s in the club junior, senior year,” Czulak said.

There are students who bicker or sign into a club without knowing the costs of sophomore dues, and if they are successful but realize they cannot afford it, it is likely the student would just drop the club, Czulak added.

Sophomore dues are usually no more than $1,000. Then, as juniors and seniors, the whole meal plan costs closer to $7,000-$9,000, she explained. Although there is opportunity for students to bicker and sign into clubs during junior year, students normally tend to join clubs during sophomore year.

Mott said that as clubs are expensive, it is understandable that people feel the need to drop from a club if they cannot afford it. She said that she would hope that costs are not a deterrent, since this would decrease all different kinds of diversity in the club, which is not a desirable outcome.

Other Eating Options

Based on the survey results, approximately 40 percent of sophomores at the time were not knowledgeable about co-ops, while 10 percent said they were. Five percent of sophomores said they were not knowledgeable about the eating clubs, while 50 percent said they were.

Czulak said it is unfortunate that not many people know about co-op options, which is a much more cost-effective opportunity. Students seem to be more aware of the independent option, but do not realize that there are co-ops with long waiting lists and limited spots.

“There is much more demand than supply,” Czulak said.

To increase the visibility of these options, the USG is working on a website for co-op and independent options, Czulak said.

Balance between alcoholic and non-alcoholic events

Responses on the balance between alcoholic and non-alcoholic social options varied, with the highest percentage of students indicating that they were dissatisfied with the balance. Levels of satisfaction were relatively the same between the Class of 2017 and Class of 2018.

Ian McGeary ’16, president of Cannon Dial Elm Club, noted that it seems like for a lot of clubs on the Street, Saturday nights are very alcohol focused and students do not see the other side to clubs.

Cannon Club has planned several non-alcoholic events for members throughout the year, such as apple picking, pumpkin carving, writing letters to soldiers and spikeball tournaments, McGeary said. In the coming months, sophomores will also get the chance to share meals inside the club and meet with members to experience the club in a non-alcoholic setting.

Quad has hosted three entirely non-alcoholic open parties so far this year, which brought in over 300 people each, Shellman said. Every Quad event also has non-alcoholic options in addition to alcoholic drinks, he said.

McGeary said that although it is difficult to host nonalcoholic events for a large group of people, when alcohol is present at events, it should not completely be the focus, as that does not represent the true meaning of a club.

“We want to perpetuate something much more than just having alcohol on the Street. Even though there is alcohol at certain events, we want to cater towards so much more than that. If you want to partake in it, you can, and if you don’t drink, that’s totally fine,” McGeary explained, adding that there are plenty of members in the club that do not drink who feel just as much of a member as anyone else.

As it is a big focus of the ICC to cater to sophomores at this time of year, it is important to make information available to sophomores so they have a clear understanding of the eating clubs before making their decisions to bicker or sign in, McGeary said.

Bickering, which does not have alcohol, is a process of meeting new people and promoting the side of club where you will be hanging out during the day, McGeary noted.

“It was a pretty big wake up call to see how a lot of the underclassmen feel this veil of the eating clubs,” McGeary said.

Looking forward

“In general, we’ve been really fortunate to have an ICC that’s proactive,” ICC president Arenas said, adding that he is appreciative of having club presidents who have put in the time to making the club experience better overall.

Arenas noted that the ICC did not have this kind of visibility on campus before, but added that because the ICC is collaborating with class governments and with USG, the goals presented in the report will become a real possibility.

Arenas said that all the eating clubs are willing to make eating clubs accessible for everyone.

“This year we’ve seen a whole new level of collaboration,” Arenas said. “Only good things can come from that.”

The presidents of Cap & Gown Club, Cloister Inn, Colonial Club, Terrace Club, Tiger Inn, Cottage Club and Tower Club did not respond to requests for comment.

The report was released on Nov. 17.

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