With only 52 current members, Charter Club has the smallest membership of any sign-in eating club. According to Charter president Conor O’Brien ’19, this has propelled rumors that the club may be on its way out.
Colonial has 133 members and Quad has 96, according to their faceboards. According to Interclub Council (ICC) Chair Hannah Paynter ’19, Cloister has 107 members. Terrace has 160 members.
O’Brien said there is “absolutely no truth” to those rumors. In an email to The Daily Princetonian, O’Brien explained that only five years ago Charter was discussing how to limit itself to fewer than 175 members. Other clubs were struggling with low membership, O’Brien wrote.
“I heard [the rumor] more from sophomores, so it’s just clear that it’s a rumor among some people,” O’Brien said.
Membership for sign-in eating clubs has generally been declining. For instance, last spring, 202 sophomores signed in early to one of the five sign-in clubs, a 30 percent decrease from the 287 early sign-ins the prior year. Meanwhile, the percentage of students double-bickering selective eating clubs rose last year.
“Most sign-in clubs have cyclical membership,” O’Brien added in the email. “Our graduate board expects these cycles and plans our finances accordingly.”
According to IRS documentation, Charter possessed $2,177,743 in total assets in 2016. This puts Charter right in the middle of the sign-in clubs in terms of total assets: The same year, Colonial Club’s total amounted to $2,951,005; followed by Terrace Club at $2,944,960; Charter; Quadrangle Club at $882,369; and Cloister Inn at $856,719. Each of the six bicker clubs possess more assets than any sign-in club.
“By design, our finances allow us to handle many years of low membership,” O’Brien said.
Although Charter has fewer members, Reid Kairalla ’19 said he enjoys being in a smaller, more tight-knit club.
“You kind of know everyone when you sit down for a meal,” Kairalla said. “When you’re looking for something to do, there’s still always people around.”
He added that there are still just as many events, the food hasn’t gotten worse, and that the quality of the club hasn’t decreased at all.
Members of the club, Kairalla said, do not even think about the possibility of Charter closing.
“I feel like a lot of this has been blown out of proportion because it’s sort of like a tabloid headline, ‘Oh, are they gonna shut down this club because there are no members joining?’ The reality is very different,” he said.
O’Brien agreed that it is “really excellent” to be part of a small group.
“You sort of feel very acutely privileged to be in this beautiful mansion, enjoying all these things with a smaller group of people,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien explained that he joined Charter because the club made him feel the happiest due to its welcoming atmosphere. He noted a common expression at Charter: “There are infinite seats at a round table.”
Despite the praises for the small group atmosphere, Charter has increased recruitment efforts this year. Kairalla noted that there have been a few more sophomore events but no drastic changes.
O’Brien explained that Charter members want to promote the club and share their positive experiences with the rest of the student body.
“It’s been a lot heavier on members personally reaching out to sophomores, like really pushing forward, whereas in previous years you can afford to be more complacent,” O’Brien said.
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Paynter explained that ICC’s primary focus this past year has been increasing the cultural and financial accessibility of the eating clubs.
“Financially, the presidents have been working closely with the financial aid office in order to provide prospective members with the most accurate information concerning club costs,” Paynter wrote. “Culturally, we have been working to make all 11 clubs … safe and welcoming spaces on an equal playing field.”
Paynter described a new bicker process that will be put in place in 2019.
“In practice, this means that open and selective club admissions timelines will be streamlined into one week of exploration this year,” she wrote.
Sophomores will request recruitment event invitations from the ICC website. To encourage sophomores to consider joining open clubs, students must request an invitation from at least one open club.
This spring, recruitment events will take place from Feb. 3 to Feb. 6. During the “Preference Window,” from Feb. 5 to Feb. 7, every sophomore will rank all of the sign-in clubs in addition to clubs they bickered. This new system, Paynter wrote, will guarantee an offer to every student on Feb. 8.
“On the whole, [this change] should be pretty positive because it necessarily broadens your audience,” O’Brien said.
He said he thinks that these changes, aside from ensuring that every sophomore has somewhere to go, will help Charter showcase the unique aspects of its culture and membership.
“They’re obliged to also find out a little bit about sign-in clubs and sign-in club culture,” O’Brien said. “Whether or not they go to any of the sign-in clubs’ events is obviously is up to them,” he said.
O’Brien said that showing there is not a distinction between bicker and sign-in clubs will have a positive effect.
“We encourage every student to explore all of their options this year, because all 11 clubs offer a unique community, great food, beautiful spaces, and so much more,” Paynter wrote.