If past years’ statistics are any indication, around 70 percent of the Class of 2021 is now bickering for acceptance into the Street’s six selective eating clubs (Cannon Dial Elm Club, Cap & Gown Club, Cottage Club, Ivy Club, Tiger Inn, and Tower Club). Later this week, sophomores will nervously await the result of their Bicker and, consequently, their social fate for the next two-and-a-half years.
The majority of them will get into at least one of the selective clubs and enjoy an upcoming weekend of alcohol-soaked, drug-laden, erotically charged initiations. But a significant minority will get outright hosed — and bear the psychosocial stings of the Bicker experience. Some of them will resiliently join sign-in clubs, pretending to have moved on from the hosing, and others will give up on the fundamental moral bankruptcy that is Prospect Avenue and go independent or join a co-op.
I can relate to those who will unfortunately be hosed this Friday. Last February, I anxiously, desperately bickered Cap with several of my friends. I got hosed, and so I did the logical thing and masochistically bickered the club last fall, only to get hosed once more.
I thought Cap was the club as prestigious as Ivy and Cottage, yet somehow also down to earth; the club that always, uncompromisingly promotes “Cap love,” and means it; the club that would never ask you how long you’d keep a baby in a microwave or demand you eat a goldfish or practice third-floor Bicker; the club that throws a debauched, quasi-striptease party every year but does so respectfully and consensually.
I wanted Cap so, so badly. I really did. Unfortunately — for me — these feelings were unrequited.
But perhaps my desperation for Cap was misguided. As the great French novelist George Sand once explained, “Unrequited love differs from mutual love, just like delusion differs from the truth.”
I didn’t love Cap so much as I loved the idea — or, more accurately, the noble ideal — of Cap. Perhaps I desired an eating club that was at once exclusive and inclusive, neoliberal and progressive, self-interested and generous — and that was perfectly content with keeping these contradictions firmly unresolved.
Because I was naïve, Cap broke my heart. I expected the club to be something it was not, to be something that would accept me unconditionally, to be something it simply couldn’t be: a recipe for an unhealthy relationship.
I don’t drink, so I wouldn’t be a reliable attendant of Cap Mondays. I don’t have the social capital to claim to be in the campus in-crowd. I only partied at Cap once (when the club went PUID for sophomores), so, needless to say, my Bicker answer to “what’s your favorite Cap memory?” was weak. I’ve never stepped into Ivy or indulged in Sunday Funday at Cottage. I’m scared of TI and insulate myself in Firestone.
I have never had access to that world, the world of Cap and Ivy, the world of free-flowing liquor and weekend-warrior hedonism — so why should I have expected to bicker my way into it?
The Interclub Council (ICC) apparently recognizes the type of social trauma that I experienced. Last December, ICC chair and Cloister president Hannah Paynter ’19 told The Daily Princetonian that the ICC will rebrand “Bicker Week” to “Street Week,” so as to “shift the language away from [Bicker] and towards a Street-wide admissions process.” She also claimed this week “is a time to explore the Street as a whole.”
If the ICC defines exploration as seven out of 10 sophomores selling their souls and bowing down to the gatekeepers of six elitist, exclusionary organizations then, yes, this week is a time of thorough exploration.
Calling Bicker Week “Street Week” is like calling poison a nutrient. It makes the substance friendlier but no less harmful; it changes the substance’s aesthetic without reforming its chemical structure. Bickering — like ingesting poison — is no less self-destructive and sadistic just because you rebranded it. In fact, rebranding Bicker further confounds the pain of being hosed.
If I could give any advice to sophomores, I would tell them to see through the hazy moral hypocrisy and insincerity of Bicker. The cliché “it doesn’t define your self-worth” is certainly true, but I’d go a step further: Your Bicker result doesn’t define anything. It’s completely arbitrary, and nobody earns, based on any legitimate meritocratic criteria, membership in a selective club over anyone else.
Hence, this week I hope sophomores have fun but also understand that the process was never meant to be fair or inclusive or loving or progressive or logical.
In many ways, the students who get hosed, despite the initial agony, are the lucky ones. Attending silly beery parties and eating brunch with people at the top of the social food chain is nice, but retaining your sense of self and accepting the ridiculousness of the process is all the more gratifying in the long run.
Samuel Aftel is a junior from East Northport, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.