In the daylight of Friday, Feb. 8, crowds of students paraded down Prospect Avenue to their new homes in the Bicker clubs — Tower Club, Cottage Club, Tiger Inn, Ivy Club, Cap & Gown Club, and Cannon Dial Elm Club — from 1879 Arch.
But that night, many students who had signed into clubs walked to their new homes from their dorms.
In different ways, these students experienced their eating club pickups, the tradition in which students are introduced to the clubs as members.
This year, however, the University indirectly prohibited sign-in clubs from participating in on-campus pickups. In emails obtained by The Daily Princetonian, the University claimed they could not accommodate on-campus pickups after 5 p.m.
As all sign-in clubs pick up new members at night, this de facto rule kept sign-in clubs from having on-campus pickups.
Sign-in clubs wanted to host their pickups at night in order to accommodate as many students as possible and avoid time conflicts, according to Interclub Council (ICC) adviser Jean-Carlos Arenas ’16 in an email obtained by the ‘Prince.’
Bicker clubs, however, conducted their pickups during the day and could only meet in 1879 Arch to take new members back to their clubs.
“Unfortunately, at this point there is not an option to accommodate on-campus pickups after 5 p.m.,” Assistant Dean Bryant Blount ’08 wrote in an email obtained by the ‘Prince.’
This decision was made after Blount had a 30-minute conversation with Assistant Director of Support Services for University Public Safety Duncan Harrison to make a compromise between the University’s desire for on-campus daytime pickups and the sign-in clubs’ desire for pickups at night, according to Blount.
Harrison deferred comment to Blount.
The reasons Blount gave were “timing” — claiming that he wished the conversations about clubs’ pickups preferences could have happened earlier — and “the university’s goals.”
Blount wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’ that the University “prioritizes the safety and well-being of all our students.”
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ ICC president Hannah Paynter ’19 wrote that the sign-in clubs voiced their concerns about the University’s decision and that the ICC would be engaged in “extensive dialogue” going forward.
“The Sign In Club presidents wanted to hold pickups at night to be as accessible to as many students as possible, acknowledging conflicts with both academic classes and extracurricular activities,” Paynter wrote. “The University has its own considerations that has made them prefer that on-campus pickups happen in the daytime.”
Arenas discussed the concerns sign-in clubs had with Blount, writing that the sign-in clubs believed the University’s praise of their inclusivity was hypocritical, given that the University was unwilling to accommodate their desire to make their pickups more inclusive by having them at night.
“[The sign-in club officers] get the feeling that the University is not being consistent in its messaging (praising the open clubs for their inclusiveness) and its actions,” Arenas wrote in an email obtained by the ‘Prince.’
Arenas deferred comment to Lisa Schmucki ’74, adviser to the Graduate Interclub Council, who reiterated Blount’s emphasis on safety as the reason for the decision and also noted that the changes were discussed with eating club officers in advance.
“Those changes were discussed in the ICC forum well in advance of Street Week, and in detail, but sometimes the impact is not fully considered and appreciated at the time,” Schmucki wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “That seems to be the case in this instance.”
Sign-in club presidents either declined to comment or deferred comment to Paynter.
A recent history of pickups
On-campus eating club pickups, however, did not always occur during the day, nor did they always occur at 1879 Arch.
The past 10 years have seen massive shifts to how eating club pickups occur. For instance, until 2012, Tower had usually hosted pick-ups at Wilson Courtyard instead of 1879 Arch. In 2010, Ivy Club had held pickups in front of “New Butler,” now Butler Residential College.
From 2006 to 2014, eating clubs pickups came under heated controversy, as issues of sexual assault and alcohol abuse came into the forefront in conversation about pickups.
But the clubs have grappled with the controversy in different ways, with one eating club even foregoing pickups one year and other eating clubs changing their locations for pickups.
A few months later in that same year, RCAs and other concerned students banded together in Wilcox Commons to air their frustrations. The event was known as “Princetonians Gone Wild: A Closer Look at Initiations” and “The Real Story of Pick-Ups,”
In 2009, 16 University students had to be transported to McCosh or the University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCPP) for alcohol-related incidents during pickups.
In the following year, club presidents successfully made a more concerted effort to mitigate concerns about safety.
That year, Princeton Borough Police Chief Robert Dudeck announced that there was a drop in alcohol-related transports during pickups from the previous year, making alcohol-related transports during pickups weekend a defining part of his monthly crime report to the Borough Council.
Despite this decline, for the next four years, an average of 10 students every year would have to be transported to McCosh or UMCPP for alcohol-related reasons during pickups weekend. Former University spokesperson Martin Mbugua noted that, because the data is representative of transports for that entire weekend, it is not possible to associate the transports to any specific event, like pickups.
A culture of exclusivity
Safety concerns, however, weren’t the only point of controversy with eating club pickups. Eating club pickups, especially for Bicker clubs, came under fire for perpetuating a culture of exclusivity.
In 2010, Cottage Club did not pick up new members from their dorm rooms, citing these concerns about exclusion.
“For the officer corps, it became apparent that our on-campus pickups activities had become ‘salt in the open wound’ for the many students who are not granted a bid through Bicker,” Ben Bologna ’10, who was president of Cottage at the time, explained. “This is not what Cottage stands for, and, as a result, we no longer want to continue such activity.”
Former University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee ’69, who chaired a task force established in September 2009 to examine the relationship between the University and the eating clubs, explained that the feelings of those who were rejected from clubs were a continued topic of concern among the administration as well.
“One of the task force members described it as ‘conspicuous cruelty,’” Durkee said, referring to the pickup tradition.
Durkee said that rejection from a club “makes it even more difficult if they have to witness the picking up of students who were successful.”
Six years earlier, Durkee had noted that a “best practices” group — comprising administrators, Public Safety officials, and eating club officers — was established to discuss “issues relating to eating club procedures.” At the time, however, the connection between pickups and heavy alcohol consumption had come to the forefront of the group’s conversation.
In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Durkee had said that the tradition of hosting pickups was of “relatively recent vintage.” Before then, during pickups, new members would arrive at their respective clubhouses instead of awaiting a collective pickup.
At the time, further changes were enacted. New guidelines at the time called for eating clubs to inform Public Safety before pickups began, to end pickups by 5 p.m., and to not carry alcohol during pickups.
Students respond, feel unaffected
Students interviewed by the ‘Prince’ did not express strong opinions on the location and times for their respective pickups.
One sophomore member of Tiger Inn, who was granted anonymity from the ‘Prince,’ said they enjoyed getting to celebrate joining in the club in a place as distinctive as 1879 Arch.
“I thought it was cool going to a place everyone knows on campus and then getting taken to the Street with your new fam,” they said. “I liked it.”
Ned Furlong ’21, a new member of Quadrangle Club, said he was skeptical that day pickups would have been any more fun than those at night.
“I don’t find that very hype. I don’t see the big excitement,” Furlong said. “Running around the Street at night is a great thing. Running around the Street during the day makes you look a little bit dumber.”
Furlong added that he did enjoy the sense of community pickups provided, regardless of time or place.
“I really like the idea [of] something as fun and innocent as running up and down Prospect Street with your friends in their new t-shirts,” Furlong said. “I think it’s cute.”
He did note, however, that pickups at 1879 Arch could have been “cool and visually iconic.”
Brent Kibbey ’21, who signed into Cloister Inn, expressed a general apathy towards pickup location.
“I don’t think it matters all that much, on campus or off campus,” Kibbey said. “It doesn’t make that much of a difference.”
Kibbey said that on-campus pickups could build community and get students excited when walking back to the club, but that the tradition “can be done without.”
Despite students’ general apathy, Blount maintained the change was overwhelmingly positive.
In an email obtained by the ‘Prince,’ Blount stated that the restriction to daytime-only on-campus pickups was a step in the right direction for student safety and maintaining a positive perception of the eating clubs.
“The demonstration of pickups that occur during daylight hours and within the footprint of 1879 Arch has been … a crucial change to club admissions that on-campus advocates of the clubs have been able to point to as a sign of great improvement,” Blount wrote in an email after pickups occurred.
“A regression in this progress would have negative impacts not just for individual club reputations, but would damage perceptions of the entire club system.”