Many students have been waiting for the Frist Campus Center to open since their tender pre-frosh years. What was once Frist the Blueprint — and later Frist the Construction Site and Mudpit — is now finally Frist the Nearly-Complete Building. But the impact that Frist will have on the rest of campus is still largely a mystery.
Last week's high Bicker and sign-in turnout casts doubt on Frist's immediate ability to compete with the 'Street.' Though Frist will offer meal plans beginning next fall, along with a variety of other dining options, 90.5 percent of the Class of 2002 participated in either Bicker or sign-ins. This figure is part of an increasing trend — the percentage of sophomores seeking to join an eating club has been rising steadily since 1997.
But while the aura of the 'Street' consistently attracts students to Prospect Avenue, individual eating clubs trade popularity from one year to the next. Membership fluctuations tend to be highly cyclical, as witnessed by the closing of DEC in 1998 and the resurgence of the Colonial Club this fall. Though initially it does not appear that Frist has strongly impacted sophomores' decisions to join — or not to join an eating club — some speculate that the new campus center will eventually upset the natural cycle of the 'Street.'
Clubs caught in an off-season are likely to lose some students to the new campus center — if not immediately after its opening next fall, then perhaps in years to come. If and when Frist succeeds in competing with the 'Street,' it will be the unlucky club with low membership that year that suffers most. Weak clubs have been forced to close in the past, and may very well be forced to close in the future in light of the new campus center.
On the one hand, if an eating club cannot attract enough members to compete with Frist, its continued operation only sustains a bloated social-scene supply curve. On the other hand, the new campus center was designed to provide additional dining and social options — not to eliminate preexisting ones. In our time we've seen the number of clubs shrink from 12 to 11, but as recently as 1968 the 'Street' supported no less than 14 eating clubs. Although it may seem inevitable, a shrinking 'Street' may not be conducive to the University's expanding student body or to its commitment to offering a wider array of social outlets. A smaller 'Street' could limit dining opportunities, exacerbate the clubs' stereotypes and strengthen the exclusivity that currently plagues Prospect Avenue.
Many have high hopes for the Frist Campus Center, including those students who feel alienated by the eating club environment. Frist may eventually become a refreshing social alternative for students — ideally, one that can successfully coexist with the 'Street.'