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Courtesy of Cannon Club

Eating club presidents are pushing back against a recently released task force report, which recommended that clubs decrease the role of prior affiliations in the selection process and cut costs to lower membership dues, among other suggestions.

Reassembled in 2017, the task force proposed a series of measures to correct perceived flaws within the eating club system, focusing on diversity, health, and accessibility. Some current eating club presidents, however, criticized the task force’s lack of transparency, an absence of concrete implementation plans for the report’s recommendations, and a general failure to acknowledge progress that the clubs have already made.

“It was all very hush-hush,” Cloister Inn president and Interclub Council (ICC) chair Hannah Paynter ’19 said. “If I’m honest, when I took the role of Chairman of the ICC, we really didn’t have much input from the University.”

The task force was comprised of then-eating club presidents, members of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, and trustees of the Graduate Interclub Council, and chaired by Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun.

According to former president of the ICC and Colonial Club president-emeritus Matt Lucas ’18, the main objective of the task force was to recommend policies that would enable the eating clubs to be safer, more inclusive, and more equitable.

After listening to criticism from fellow students, Paynter said the eating club presidents were already in the process of taking actions to address some of the problems outlined in the report, such as SHARE concerns. 

“I wish we had this report earlier, because we could have spent the last year tackling these issues in a more structured way,” she said.

For one, the report recommended that the eating clubs “continue, enhance, and potentially expand existing programs through SHARE … to provide training for eating club officers and members” — a measure that the eating clubs have already taken.

Every club holds mandatory Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) and University Health Services (UHS) training sessions from September to November, and the ICC has established a SHARE liaison who attends every council monthly meeting.

“The University had not necessarily recognized efforts that we had made to create strong relations with [SHARE],” Cap and Gown Club president RJ Hernandez ’19 said. “We are definitely taking steps that we want the University to acknowledge.” 

Some on the task force, however, said that there is still room for improvement.

“Sometimes programs in place on paper are not executed fully in practice,” task force member Olivia Grah ’19 said. “There can be a disconnect about actually bringing the liaisons to the club. The program exists, but there is a separation between the plan and implementation.”

Grah led the USG Senate project team formed in response to the passage of the referendum 2017 USG referendum, which stated that the University should direct eating clubs to release the demographic makeup of their members in an annual report.

Others on the committee also objected to proposed methods of improving the eating club selection process, specifically through decreasing the role of prior affiliations with other campus organizations, such as athletic life, secret societies, or dance and theater troupes.

“The ICC as a whole worked on ‘Sophomore Week’ to demystify the club-joining experience,” Tower Club president and ICC Co-Chair Rachel Macaulay ’19 said. “Even if [a bickeree] might not yet have friends in the club, we still try to make sure nobody has a ‘leg up.’ Our process is about prospective members getting to know the membership.”

But beyond “Sophomore Week,” members of the ICC are unsure how to decrease the role of prior affiliations, as recommended by the committee’s report.

“I know other presidents are proud of their affiliations, and they create their clubs’ identity,” Hernandez said. “They thought it might be an attempt by the University to micromanage the identity of clubs.”

According to Grah, members of the committee also discussed a hypothetical alternative selection process in which the clubs would rank potential applicants in order of preference, similar to the medical school residency match process.

Grah added that committee members knew such an arrangement would be unlikely to happen. 

Members of the ICC also objected to the task force’s recommendation to lower member charges, such as dues and social fees, which would mainly occur through cutting costs at the clubs. Proposals in the report include reducing the number of sophomore meals, and allowing club members to eat in dining halls during certain meals, such as breakfast.

Grah however, said that the breakfast option was a particularly viable solution.

“It has the dual purpose of enabling seniors to eat with underclassmen, and letting workers come later,” Grah said. “Most members don’t even eat breakfast at the club.”

Still, Paynter said she opposes limiting meals for sophomores, noting that many clubs only allow two or fewer meals a week — further reducing the number of meals could diminish sophomores’ sense of community within a club.

In a response to the task force report, the ICC wrote that “[it is] currently investigating what options exist regarding institutionalized financial aid.”

The report even included recommendations that members of the task force deemed implausible. According to USG president Rachel Yee ’19, the task force was created in part as a response to the referendum passed on eating clubs in the spring of 2017.

Many on the committee, however, determined that a University mandate to release demographic information would not be feasible, citing concerns about federal laws around disclosure and violations of privacy.

Given this, it would be nearly impossible for the eating clubs to give up their information voluntarily, Grah acknowledged.

“You fall into a game theory trap,” she said. “Somebody goes to [Tiger Inn] and says ‘Hey, we released all our demographic information, you should too.’ But if TI releases their information, and Ivy and Cottage did not, then it’s TI who’s put under a microscope.”

Overall, Paynter said she wished that authors of the report acknowledged the progress that she and other members of the ICC have made since the original report in 2010.

However, Paynter also made it clear that despite the ICC’s issues with the task force’s recommendations, the ICC is “thrilled” to “have a comprehensive guide for future initiatives.”

In its official response to the task force’s report, the ICC commended the report and outlined its progress since the release of the last report in 2010.

“It’s really cool that the University has put the time and effort in partnering with the eating clubs,”  Paynter told the ‘Prince.’ “But it’s also really important to recognize that the clubs aren’t removed and ignorant of the problems lying in the system, and we’re trying to figure out the solutions.”

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