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Life at Princeton makes it hard to declare independence

The University's stance regarding the eating clubs is perplexing and inconsistent. While the administration says it is trying to diminish the image — and reality — that Princeton's social scene revolves around the 'Street,' its actions do not adequately live up to its words.

To its credit, the administration is taking some steps to diminish the 'Street's hold on students' time and attention. Nearly every weekend, one of the residential colleges hosts a dance or beach party. The trustees' alcohol initiative provides funding only for events on Thursday and Saturday nights, requiring a significant portion of the event to occur after 10 p.m.


While not all the events have been roaring successes, the alcohol initiative is too easily dismissed by cynics who believe we'll always choose that IQ-straining game of Beirut over a quality non-alcoholic event. A considerable number took a break from Houseparties debauchery to attend the Wind Ensemble's concert on April 29 at the Wilson School fountain, and everyone I talked to agreed that such events should take place more often, and not just on typical 'Street'-going nights.

And yet, there remains the indisputable fact that eating club enrollment is on the rise — more than 80 percent of sophomores joined an eating club this semester, myself included. Some join an eating club because of the social prestige, others because they want to be part of a smaller, more manageable community, others for the good food, others because there exist no other equally desirable alternatives — or, most commonly, some combination of these factors.

The University cannot do anything about the first three factors. But it can and should do a better job of providing that favorite University catch phrase — "a viable alternative" — to the eating clubs. The major obstacles to going independent or joining a co-op are perceived social alienation from a significant portion of the campus as well as a host of practical difficulties.

When an uproar arose over the proposed closing of Stevenson, the administration responded that the Frist Campus Center would serve as an adequate replacement. Frist is going to provide many useful amenities, including more space for student groups, but its immense size will not preserve the intimate nature of Stevenson.

Furthermore, Frist is not even going to provide an upperclass meal contract option. At a talk I recently attended with Paul Breitman, the director of the campus center, he explained that Frist would not offer an upperclass meal contract because the administration did not want Frist to be viewed as competing with the eating clubs.

I find this viewpoint absurd. If decreasing the inconvenience and relative social isolation of being independent qualifies as "competition," then I'm all for it. So long as the University is not entering the eating clubs and digging for violations, the idea that University-sponsored alternatives qualify as an attempt to shut down the eating clubs is ludicrous.


One of the most significant obstacles to going independent is the lack of a conveniently located supermarket: McCaffrey's is a 20-minute walk from campus, Wild Oats is expensive and the Wa's selection is limited. Just as the University has an unofficial duty to aid the struggling Garden Theater because it is the only movie theater within walking distance for students, so it should do everything in its power to secure a supermarket near the University. A nearby supermarket would be appreciated by independents, members of coops, eating club members and underclassmen alike.

Furthermore, there should be more dorms with kitchen facilities. In order to be assured a Spelman suite, all or most of the inhabitants must be independent. If one's best friends are all members of eating clubs, that effectively eliminates drawing into Spelman. Not having a convenient kitchen facility makes joining an eating club the obvious choice.

Of course, you could always join one of the coops: 2 Dickinson and Brown are both extremely affordable and the food is reportedly quite good. But if you're not a vegetarian, Brown is your only choice, and there are only 25 total slots available. Furthermore, you can't meal exchange with the eating clubs — while Brown is quite generous about allowing guests, you must rely on the goodwill of friends who are members of eating clubs to give you guest passes.

I am not calling for the abolition of the eating clubs — just real choice. The University can and should do more to achieve its goal of providing truly viable alternatives. Liriel Higa is from Los Angeles, Calif. She can be reached at

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