Recent opposition to the USG eating club referendum — a proposal to collect demographic data on club membership — has largely focused on three main aspects: the challenges of implementation, the effect on the student body, and the fear of misinterpreting the cause of the demographics. Together, these issues have convinced the Editorial Board to largely dismiss the positive arguments for the referendum that are centered on appeals to inclusivity and diversity. Neither side of the argument has understood the full importance of diversity.
By internalizing the idea that we live in a “bubble” shielded from racial violence and socio-economic injustice, we have failed to see the manifestations of these phenomena on our very own campus. In reality, the eating club system continues to reflect larger societal issues by allowing membership to be influenced heavily by factors of race and class. If we truly want to set ourselves apart from society, we must recognize the role of diversity in combating these systemic issues. Releasing demographic information on our eating clubs is therefore a necessary step in diversifying them.
We have become so desensitized to the words “inclusivity” and “diversity” that they have become utterly trite. They are, as the Board refers to them, a product of “the committee’s stated goals” — as if they could be equated to personal goals like going to the gym: positive but inessential. As a result, the appeal to “diversity” on the side that favors the referendum has been deprived of its proper gravity; diversity has become a social amenity that can be abandoned with sufficient pushback. We have lost sight of the big picture, and our hypocrisy is painfully evident given that the conception of diversity as a counter to systematic oppression began on college campuses.
Affirmative action — the epitome of regulatory diversity — is a redistribution of resources that levels the playing field for disadvantaged groups. According to our very own professor Dara Strolovitch, “the principle of affirmative action recognizes that equitable representation for disadvantaged groups requires proactive efforts to overcome the entrenched but often subtle biases that persist against marginalized groups in American politics.” Thus, the original motivations for inclusivity and diversity on college campuses were nowhere near as superfluous as “committee goals.” They were one of the only effective measures against a world of systematic oppression — one that continues to inflict harm on the most vulnerable of Americans: women, blacks, gays, lesbians, and people with disabilities.
Indeed, in order to implement affirmative action, it has been necessary for colleges to ask students uncomfortable questions of racial identity, which the Board has already cited as a reason against the referendum. Yet, in the context of affirmative action, the momentary discomfort of applicants reducing their identities to a single category pales in comparison to the lifelong barriers experienced by millions of Americans facing systematic oppression. As a means of access toward greater opportunities in life, colleges realized that they have a responsibility to shape the society at large — it is no longer okay to be complicit in the system.
We have come a long way since the initial controversies surrounding affirmative action. It is now generally accepted that affirmative action is necessary in combating the controlled access to education by privileged groups. We recognize that if colleges do not take active measures to combat societal trends within their own population of admitted students, they will continue to reflect the inequality that plagues society at large. It is shocking that we do not see the parallels now.
Just as colleges discovered that to do nothing was to perpetuate and exacerbate the existing problems of society, so too are eating clubs perpetuating the racial and class segregation that persists on our campus. The disparity in access to Bicker clubs among races is the direct result of this segregation. In a 2007 survey, the Bicker acceptance rate for whites was 67 percent, while only 34 percent for non-whites. These entrenched biases reflect the very societal inequalities that our current admissions committee actively combats every year through affirmative action.
What is at stake in the referendum, therefore, is an opportunity to challenge the harmful status quo — one that has left minority members without equal access to an important part of most students’ Princeton experience. We lose sight of the big picture when we believe that eating clubs should release their demographics simply because diversity and inclusivity are “good things.” We must think of our eating club demographics as the reflection of our problematic campus culture and, consequently, the expressions of a problematic society.
By making demographics transparent, we bring race into our consciousness, allowing ourselves to work toward combating rather than perpetuating these systematic injustices. We can no longer afford to think of diversity as just another goal to be placed among the other goals for the semester. If the University is to address its discriminatory campus culture and acknowledge its role in perpetuating existing inequalities among their social groups, then we must take diversity as seriously as college admissions. Because releasing demographic information on club membership is the first step toward acknowledging these issues, it is also the first step toward a more equitable future.
Chang Che is a comparative literature major from Ann Arbor, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.