Editorial: putting bicker in context and strengthening the sign-ins| Feb 19, 2017
This month, 1,018 sophomores participated in the process of joining an eating club, whether through bickering or signing in. The annual event sparked controversy, as it often does, yet eating clubs remain deeply ingrained in the Princeton fabric: 56.3% of voting students voted against the 2015 “Hose Bicker” referendum, and the University does not have capacity to feed upperclassmen without the clubs. While this may mean eating clubs are here to stay, the Board believes the substantial stress and unhappiness that the process of joining clubs can create for students should be alleviated by the following recommendations.
First, to sophomores who did not obtain their preferred Bicker outcomes, we want to emphasize that while Bicker can feel like a deeply personal process, being hosed is often due to random factors such as the timing of an individual’s discussion or the club members whom a Bickeree happened to meet during Bicker. Every student at Princeton is valuable and welcome in this community, and Bicker outcomes do not change that. Further, as a unique Princeton institution, eating club affiliation has little to no bearing on life post-graduation. The clubs are largely a social and community experience while here at Princeton, and accordingly we encourage sophomores who are disappointed after Bicker to join a sign-in club this spring. Sign-in clubs offer the same opportunities to make new friends, eat good food, find an alumni network, and enjoy members’ social events that Bicker clubs do. Even for someone planning to re-bicker a club in the fall, joining a sign-in club this spring is a great way to meet new people and have the experience of being in a club. One might very well fall in love with the club and not have to bother with the Bicker process again. We strongly encourage students to take a chance and sign in this spring.
Given that sign-in clubs are an essential alternative to Bicker clubs, we also believe that the University must do more to support the sign-in clubs and incentivize membership by offering more shared meal plans and considering opening the four-year residential colleges to students without a dining hall plan. Sign-in clubs have broadly experienced membership declines over the past decade. In 2009, the Board expressed concern that the USG COMBO II survey showed that “since 2007, the number of students reporting membership in a sign-in club has dropped nearly 10 percent, while the number of students not joining any club has increased almost 7 percent.” In 2012, four of the five sign-in clubs reported a total of 445 incoming members. Quadrangle Club did not release its numbers that year. By contrast, in 2016, all five sign-in clubs reported a total of only 374 incoming members. At least part of this decline is likely due to the University’s fall 2007 creation of the four-year residential college system, which has allowed upperclassmen to live in Butler, Mathey, and Whitman provided they have a University or shared meal plan. While it was an admirable goal of the administration to provide students with dining options beyond the Street, this seems to have backfired in part by taking students away from the sign-in clubs. This further heightens the Bicker clubs’ exclusivity and increases stress for students seeking acceptance to a Bicker club, who may feel a sign-in club is a less viable alternative given its lower membership.
We believe the University can maintain flexibility for students who do not wish to join an eating club while still supporting the sign-in clubs by increasing the number of shared meal plans available to sign-in clubs. If a prospective sign-in club member interested in living in a nicer dorm in a residential college knew that he or she would have a high chance of obtaining a shared meal plan from the club, he or she would be more likely to sign in and bring friends with them. If current membership levels persist or decline further, the University ought to consider allowing students to live in a residential college without a University dining plan. The residential college room draw could work similarly to independent room draw, with students definitely purchasing a dining hall plan getting first priority to draw into the residential colleges and the remaining dorms going to eating club members.
In conclusion, the Board hopes more students, including sophomores this spring, will take advantage of the opportunity to join sign-in clubs, which offer a great experience to members without the exclusivity and negativity of Bicker. Because sign-in clubs play such an important role on campus, we believe it is imperative the University implement our recommendations of increasing the number of shared meal plans and considering opening residential colleges to non-meal planholders. This would help sustain the sign-in clubs at high membership levels in order to provide a positive community for their members and prevent the further privileging of the Bicker clubs relative to the sign-in clubs.
Connor Pfeiffer ’18 recused himself from the writing of this editorial.
The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Co-Chairs, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. It can be reached at email@example.com.