Seven of every ten Princetonians will pay thousands of dollars to eat at a mansion on Prospect Avenue. The eating clubs are like Hogwarts houses, each with a unique culture and personality. Here's the house for people who swim and row, we say; that's the house for people who love to drink and dance, and there's the house for those who want to run the country. That's to be distinguished from the one for those who will own the country. And there are seven more.
Pick one carefully, young sophomore. It will be your second home forever.
Those are the charitable stereotypes. There are uncharitable, unprintable ones too. It's time to move past all these stereotypes — time to demystify Prospect Avenue. The first, tentative step we can take is to track club demographics. If this referendum passes, USG will collect demographic data twice a year, after the fall and spring sign-in/bicker periods. It will publish them to the student body. Club members will be able to see the data and use it to inform their recruitment strategies. Sophomores will be able to see the data, and it will help them choose what club to join. And we will all be able to see the data, and see how we, as a school, are choosing to split ourselves up among the clubs.
Currently, the clubs guard their membership rosters fiercely. We know that clubs have, over Princeton's history, carefully watched how many Jewish students, or women, they allowed in. Here's what a club officer said to a Jewish student in 1953, according to a Harvard Crimson report on Princeton’s eating clubs: "We'd like to take you, but our quota on you people is filled up."
We've moved past that, I think. But how can we know, unless we have the numbers?
I have faith that the demographic data will, in the end, be fairly uncontroversial; that the clubs will be more diverse and representative of the student body than we think they are. That's why I think there's nothing to fear, and everything to gain, for us as a school to have this information.
And if the data is controversial? Some upperclassmen seem worried that releasing demographic data would hurt their club. But I think we ought to look at the data as Princetonians, not as club members. If there are groups on campus that cluster in one club, I don't think that reflects poorly upon that club. Rather, it says that structural problems within Princeton have created a divide between two groups — problems that the entire student body would need to address.
We come to Princeton to experience a liberal arts education. We move here so that we can live with and learn from students who are not like us. And, as a school, we claim to be “in the service of humanity.” Can we really say that, if we segregate ourselves by race, or gender, or major? The eating clubs ought to be places that enhance the liberal arts experience — not places for us to hide from it.
Finally, a personal appeal. For this referendum to even have a chance of passing, 1,750 of us — a third of the school — must vote. Last year, about 1,500 of us voted on the SPEAR divestment referendum. The referendum failed. In Fall of 2015, 1623 people voted for USG President. There was no referendum that season, but if there had been, it also would have failed.
If you care, even a little, about this issue, please vote. It matters much more than you think it does. For if we don’t take the first step, then who will? If not now, then when?
Leila Clark is a computer science major from Tai Po, Hong Kong. She is sponsoring the demographics referendum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.