Auditions season is once again upon us. Every day, it seems, another group is sending out an email telling us we should come to auditions. Many of these emails will joyfully claim that no experience is necessary. But it seems that many students — or at least many on Tiger Confessions — feel this is not quite true. Post #3866, for instance, expresses this frustration exactly, claiming that the exclusivity of many audition-based groups is arbitrary. Having prior experience gives students a significant advantage in the audition process. Understandably, the status quo has left many of our peers feeling frustrated: many feel they were roped into an unfair audition. Perhaps, then, it is time to change auditions to placement-only auditions, wherein each group has a “Varsity” and “Junior Varsity” sub-group.
I think that debates in political theory regarding liberty and its value can help us understand what is going on here. These debates are particularly relevant as they pertain to wealth. The first argument — let’s call it the — states that being free and having the ability to use that freedom are different concepts. Essentially, having little to no wealth does not constrain your liberty at all because, in principle, you can still do the things that your lack of money prevents you from doing. This argument would claim that you are free to drive a car to work, even if you do not have a car.
In the context of auditions on campus, the No Constraint Argument would take the form of the “No experience necessary” disclaimer. Essentially, it is literally true that no experience is necessary to join many of the groups. The groups themselves do not put up any barrier to those with little to no experience.
On the other hand, we have what I call the . It claims that having money is what actually gives you your freedom. As such, there is no real difference between freedom and its value — both are fundamentally important. In contrast with the No Constraint Argument, the No Difference Argument would say that not having a car does constrain your freedom to drive one: you simply cannot do it.
In auditions, it is clear that having some experience helps, much like wealth does in the No Difference Argument. Students who are fortunate enough to come to Princeton with a background in whatever they wish to join have a seemingly unfair advantage. In other words, the students who do not have the relevant background necessarily see their freedom to join that group affected in important ways.
I am certainly not arguing that this lens necessarily requires that student groups with auditions that use this disclaimer ought to get rid of the disclaimer or of auditions generally. There are important factors that auditions can help evaluate, not least of which is talent. Each of these groups has a specific purpose; some want to perform the best dance show in their category, others want to win debate competitions. Regardless of the specific purpose, they do in fact have purposes, so talent is a significant consideration.
That being said, it seems just as significant to understand how talent might be correlated with morally irrelevant characteristics, particularly socioeconomic background. One could suggest that groups ought to be more honest in their advertising. I think this is a move in the right direction, but it’s open to the obvious objection that this would likely discourage many students from auditioning, out of fear that their lack of experience would disqualify them from getting in.
I think there is a better solution: placement-only auditions. If we have something like a “Varsity” and “Junior Varsity” section of each group, we can avoid many of the harms caused by the audition process — like social exclusion — while protecting the desire for talented members. Having a “Junior Varsity” team or troupe would also allow for a guaranteed group of talented members to replace the current core. More importantly, it would balance the effects that socioeconomic status can have on students’ prospects of entry.
Of course, there is a concern about hierarchy. If the primary concern is with students’ well-being, one might object, wouldn’t this proposal solidify hierarchies that would make some students feel inferior to the rest? This would certainly be objectionable and in order to prevent it, the line between the two groups ought to be easily crossed. If a student, once they are in the group, demonstrates dedication and talent (however that group chooses to define it) they ought to have a fairly easy time moving up to the “Varsity” team.
Obviously, the solution to this problem merits further discussion. The groups which are the focus of my discussion are likely the ones that are going to develop the most effective solutions. Creating a serious dialogue on campus regarding the exclusivity of ostensibly inclusive groups is a necessary step in making the University a better place for all students, and I think political theory can help us better understand these issues.
Sebastian Quiroz is a junior from Apopka, FL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.