An Undergraduate Student Government referendum proposing the release of demographic information about the members of each eating club and bickerees to selective clubs, sponsored by Leila Clark ’18, passed during the USG 2016 Winter Elections, securing 68.9 percent of the vote.
The referendum directs the USG Senate to establish a standing committee which would work with the Interclub Council to release this information, including the race, gender, and academic major of club members and bickerees.
Although the referendum received a large amount of support from the student body, the measures it outlines are not mandatory for the ICC to carry out.
“Since the clubs are private, USG carries no authority over ICC. Information would only be released on a voluntary basis that would require the consent of each individual clubs' membership, officers, management, and graduate board,” ICC and Colonial Club president Christopher Yu '17 wrote in an email to the Daily Princetonian.
Because of this separation, the referendum's influence may only be symbolic.
“I think it’s a great way to gauge the University climate, whether or not the referendum is successful, in that the ICC can only do so much. Since the eating clubs are private institutions, this is going to be on a voluntary basis,” U-Councilor Lucas Ramos ’19 said. “Regardless of getting data, I think it shows that students are interested in racializing eating clubs. They’re tapping a nerve that has always been thought but is being formed into actual words now.”
Nonetheless, the student body has expressed strong support for the referendum and its implications.
“It really became obvious to me how big a part of our lives eating clubs are. Even if you’re not in an eating club, it still affects you a lot because your friends are in eating clubs, and friend groups get split across eating clubs,” Clark said of her decision to sponsor the referendum. “I feel like we also don’t understand eating clubs that well, and so I thought that we should have some way to understand them a little better.”
Clark emphasized that the voting results far surpassed the minimum threshold for a referendum to pass, which requires turnout from one-third of undergraduate students and a simple majority approval. Clark noted that of the people who voted, almost 70 percent voted for the referendum.
"I wasn’t expecting this high of an approval rate. It looks like most people really want this information. To put that number into perspective, 70 percent of upperclassmen are in clubs," Clark said.
Yu reiterated the ICC’s belief that releasing demographic information would not be productive in furthering their goals of inclusion and diversity and would have adverse side effects on eating clubs’ memberships.
“I think that [the referendum] exacerbates the issue of social stratification,” Yu added.
“Let’s say a club has 70% or 60% of a demographic — whether it’s STEM majors, or anything else. You’ll find people who are similar to it, see the numbers, and join the club because of it. Or they’ll see the numbers and they don’t like them and they decide not to join. They join a club that they think on paper looks better for them, but the reality of the situation is people need to come into these clubs and see the communities that are actually here.”
Yu also outlined concerns that clubs with smaller memberships, in particular, wouldn’t want to release private demographic information, and that bicker clubs were apprehensive of students feeling as if they were token members.
“One of the bigger concerns of mine is that the U. community is kind of hypocritical,” Yu said. “We are finding that the number of people in bicker clubs is increasing and the number of people in sign-in clubs is decreasing. We still buy into this system — whether this system is exclusivity, or selectiveness, or wanting to be part of social groups that we find are similar to us.”
Clark felt that releasing demographic information on the clubs would improve students’ decisions about eating clubs rather than intensify current trends in social stratification.
“Some people were concerned that it would make people join clubs that are more similar to them, and that it would entrench the stereotypes. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Clark added. “I just want people to be able to make more informed choices. It’s really hard to find a club that you feel like you belong to, that’s why so many people drop their club after junior year.”
Yu emphasized that the ICC’s attempts at increasing transparency of the eating clubs have often been met with a lack of interest from students. He cited an eating club panel that the ICC held last year as an example of how the University community can be hypocritical when it comes to advocating for eating club transparency. The presidents of all eleven clubs gathered to answer questions, but only five students attended the event. The ICC also held an event called Taste of Prospect, offering dinner at the clubs to all sophomores for a night, which was poorly attended.
“We are trying to make it easier for people to understand the clubs, but it’s not happening,” Yu said.
Both Yu and Clark addressed the next steps for the referendum if USG works to establish the committee.
“I think what the ICC will do is help get this information about the panels, about Taste of Prospect, about dining plan options, about joining a club — making these things more known to the community," Yu said. "We’ve tried, but I think we can partner with USG on making it easier."
“Ideally, I think it would be great if we could get some data out before Intersession, so that sophomores have that for when they bicker or sign in,” Clark said. “I think it’s really important that we have some data so that we stop speculating and start talking about real things.”