"If you were to die tonight with no further communication to the outside world, what is that last thing that you want people to know?" an Ivy Club member asked me, no more than five minutes into our Bicker interview. I stared around at the glossy wood bookshelves in Ivy's library for a few seconds as I contemplated a genuine response that would not give away too many personal details to a complete stranger.
One hour later, I was sitting with another club member near a pool table. As we were watching some students play 8-ball, she casually asked, "Have you ever been in love before?" I quickly responded, "no" and pivoted the conversation to a different topic. The question surprised me. I hadn't expected Bicker interviews to probe so deeply.
Two weeks ago, the Bicker clubs released their decisions. Seventy-four percent of bickerees made it into a new social circle. For the remaining quarter — which totaled about 200 students — getting rejected, colloquially known as “hosed,” crushed their dreams. After going through the process, I understand why being hosed is devastating for many students. Bicker's deeply personal nature makes hosing feel like utter social and personal rejection. Eating clubs should alleviate this feeling by making the Bicker process less personal.
Bicker's goal is to assess students' personalities to see if they would be a good fit in the eating club. The clubs take varying approaches to accomplishing this task. Some play games, some stick to interviews, and a few do both. But across the board, the sophomore sources I consulted encountered at least one club member who asked personal questions or expressed personal interest in a bickeree that breached the normal social boundaries between strangers.
With these questions, Bicker takes advantage of vulnerable students. Loneliness is a problem for Princetonians. With so many classes and homework assignments filling up our time, it can be difficult to meet new people and maintain old friendships.
Bicker comes along as a tantalizing opportunity to find new friends at a time when sophomores are beginning to feel locked into their social lives on campus. After talking to lots of members, students can walk away feeling like they've made dozens of friends in the Bicker process. But Bicker isn’t about friendships, it’s more like speed dating. Bickerees talk to club members, and the members choose whether to accept or reject the bickerees. The conversations' depth, some of which involve very personal questions, feign intimacy. In this way, Bicker preys on students' deepest fears and insecurities of exclusion or, worse yet, false inclusion.
Throughout the process, members appear eager to accept bickerees. That's why it can feel like a stab in the back when someone gets rejected. One interviewer told a friend that she adored him. He was subsequently hosed. Many of my own interviews ended with lines like, "I want you to get in," or, "You're cool and I hope you make it." But individual members don’t have full control; one member being on a bickeree’s side may not be enough. For the hosed bickerees, though, it feels that much more personal because they are being judged on their personalities.
But there is still hope for improving Bicker. Eating clubs should depersonalize the process by making it more like a job interview. Club members don't need to know about a bickeree's secrets, potential dying words, or relationships with parents to judge their personalities. They should instead focus on their goals, interests, classes, and experiences at Princeton. These are generic topics that almost any student would be willing to discuss with anyone, especially classmates. They give insight into a person's life but don't strike at the core of their existence. Club interviewers should also maintain formalities. Getting too close to bickerees or saying something heartfelt only sets them up for feelings of betrayal should they later be hosed.
While this won’t eliminate campus loneliness, it will at least alleviate the rejection and hurt that hosed students feel. Social rejection will continue to be intertwined with the eating clubs as long as they remain selective. But the Bicker clubs can set ground rules with their members to diminish the degree to which bickerees feel it.
Getting hosed from an eating club shouldn't feel any worse than being rejected for an internship. As Princetonians, we all face the same academic challenges and should take care of each other regardless of whether we accept peers into our clubs or not. Depersonalizing Bicker is a first step that we can take toward this goal.
This is the second in a series of articles about improving Princeton's eating clubs.
Liam O’Connor is a sophomore from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.