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Recently, I proved with demographic data that the Street is socioeconomically segregated and that sports teams feed into certain eating clubs. The recently leaked subset of Ivy Club’s 2017 Bicker cards now explain why my findings are right. 

They initially don’t seem that bad compared to some of the horror stories that students have told of other clubs. Aside from a few repugnant remarks, members’ comments were polite. Seventy percent of leaked scores were 4s and 5s. For that, I’ll give Ivy a 5 on classiness.

But the devil is in the details. Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find the story of how identities and secret networks get students into exclusive clubs.

The subsets of cards repeatedly show that members were cognizant of bickerees’ races, families, affiliations, and socioeconomic levels. These factors may have affected their scores. 

“I think he’d be a positive addition to the club, especially as an affiliated African-American man,” a card said (Score: 4). Another discussed the value of a female Asian-American prospective. A member described one bickeree as a “rich white girl.” There were few 1s, though women received twice as many as men. On the other hand, men had 40 percent more 2s. 

Ivy members might look past affiliations when getting to know their fellow clubmates — as multiple cards stated — but they pay attention to them when evaluating sophomores.

“If you have a set bicker quota of Zetes or whatever PLEASE keep him as like #1,” a card said (Score: 5). References to fraternities and sororities dotted the documents’ pages. One card mentioned that a student, “rushed and got into saint A’s.”

Varsity athletics were a frequent subject. “He’s the classic rower type we in Ivy love,” a card said (Score: 5). Another added, “make ivy row again” (Score: 4). 

How, where, and by whom a person was raised seems to matter — or at least impresses interviewers. Ivy members discussed bickerees’ upbringings multiple times.

“[REDACTED] grew up in Princeton (went to school in Lawrenceville),” began a card (Score: 4). The Lawrenceville School’s boarding costs currently total $66,360 per year. A different card said, “[REDACTED] has a really cool background. He went to Eton and knows [REDACTED]” (Score: 5). Eton College’s annual fees exceed $52,000. Interviews also discussed the Spence School, Phillips Academy Andover, and other elite private schools. These bicker cards mentioning private schools had an average score of 4.1. 

Members also spoke of sophomores’ families and hometowns. “The [REDACTED] family is beloved by Nashville,” a card said, “the [REDACTED] are widely known as decent and honest people (the kind you’d want to bring home to Mama).”

“Her parents are extremely impressive,” another card said (Score: 4). There was talk of one bickeree’s father being a Yale professor and another’s girlfriend whose father is a high administrator at Notre Dame (Scores: 4, 3). 

“We discovered we went to high school on the same street in NYC,” a card said (Score: 5). This connection isn’t too extraordinary because Ivy has the highest percentage of members from the Big Apple and the five largest U.S. cities of any club on the Street. Bickerees whose bicker cards mention New York City had an average score of 4.4, and bickerees whose cards mention Los Angeles averaged 4.2.

Wealth doesn’t buy happiness, but it can buy experiences to discuss during Bicker. Among the conversation topics were golf, skydiving, and cruising, all of which scored highly.

We can’t know whether those bickerees came from affluent backgrounds. But it’s more likely than not that they did, given that wealth makes it easier to access these activities. 

Although having a friendly personality is necessary in any interview, members emphasized that talking about engaging topics was more important.

“I have few terrible things to say about [REDACTED], and I liked her enough, but she deserves a neutral for the lack of interesting things she talked about,” a card said (Score: 3). One member admitted, “A lot of people try to [pretend] to be quirky [because], let[’]s be honest, being normal is boring.” 

“Would give her a 5,” a member wrote, “BUT I was yelled at for being too generous with scores last year, so here is a 4.” It looks like Ivy has its own form of grade deflation. 

The cards’ tone showed mild condescension. Bickerees were referred to as “kid” on 140 occasions. "Sweet girl” was so widespread that it became eerie. Members sounded as if they were middle-aged Goldman bankers assessing fresh-out-of-college applicants instead of peers who are only one or two years older than their interviewees.

It’s troubling that we judge our classmates in this way. We already go to a renowned university, so I don’t understand why we segregate ourselves further by arbitrary standards of prestige. The numbers have revealed that this social hierarchy lines up with students’ socioeconomic status, and now the cards show that it’s not by coincidence. 

“There are negative impacts of the eating clubs. This is the single most common reason why [an accepted applicant] turns Princeton down,” then-President Shirley Tilghman told the Princeton Alumni Weekly in 2006. She thought that Bicker was one of them. If this trend is still true today, then we need to heed her warning.

Princeton’s biggest competitors — Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT — all have exclusive aspects of their social scenes, whether they be Greek life, final clubs, or secret societies. The difference is that they can be sideshows in a wider field of options.

“People choose to bicker. When they choose freely to bicker, they must recognize the possibility of not receiving [a] bid,” then-Ivy president Robert Woll ’78 told the New York Times. He added, “They are not coerced into bickering.” His view is representative of how Bicker clubs have traditionally justified their process. But the facts don’t support this argument. 

“The students don’t have a free choice to join the clubs in the way they do at Yale and Harvard,” Tilghman said. Even if the residential colleges, independent dorms, and sign-in clubs were filled to capacity, around 580 students would be left without a dining plan, according to meal exchange website statistics. 

“We don’t have a lot of alternatives for feeding juniors or seniors,” she said. These remaining students either have to eat in town — which is expensive — make meals in their rooms, or join a selective club. To put it simply, the current situation forces some people to undergo Bicker regardless of whether they want to. 

In light of the Ivy leaks’ revelations, we need to ask ourselves if Bicker’s positive aspects are worth losing bright high school students to Harvard and Yale. 

Liam O’Connor is a junior geosciences major from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at lpo@princeton.edu.

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