In response to declining membership, the Princeton Charter Club’s Board of Governors is calling for student proposals to redesign and revitalize Charter in time for Street Week.
The letter, sent to the classes of 2022, 2021, and 2020 by email, explains the low enrollment situation and offers students the chance to transform Charter in the hopes of attracting “an engaged and sizable new membership” to 79 Prospect Avenue.
“Dear Princetonians,” wrote the graduate board in an open letter. “We invite you and your friends, your teams, your organizations, and your activities to consider the opportunity to join a club that you can make your own.”
Membership has declined steadily over the past five years, with each graduating class fielding fewer Charter members than those prior.
Last year, Charter had the lowest membership of any club with 52 members, and continues to be the smallest club with only 38 total members of the classes of 2020 and 2021. Just four years ago, there were twice that many in Charter’s Class of 2015 alone, and in 2011, 95 sophomores signed in, filling Charter to capacity.
“Over the past several years, our section sizes have been lower than we’d like them to be,” Charter President Justin Hamilton ’20 said. “Historically, sign-in clubs oscillate in size a lot; there have been other clubs in recent years who got really really small and then got really large. It happens to all of the sign-in clubs for a variety of different reasons.”
The graduate board states that though Charter has the financial means to operate at smaller membership levels “indefinitely,” it would prefer for the club to return to capacity.
“We’re at the point where, financially, we’ve been very very well-managed, and we can last pretty much indefinitely with a smaller membership number, but we do want more people to be able to experience our clubhouse and our product,” Hamilton said.
He explained that instead of waiting for the club’s numbers to naturally recover over a period of several years, the graduate board and undergraduate officers hoped to expedite the process.
The letter goes on to state that groups of between 6–100 students can submit a proposal for a new direction for Charter, including potential changes to club leadership, club size, dining options, social events, physical features, educational opportunities, and/or financial aid.
“We left it intentionally very open-ended, aiming this at a very very wide variety of people to come in and, if they have a large enough group, really make the club their own,” Hamilton said. “We currently have a small and really wonderful community where everyone really knows each other, and I think that’s a pretty unique aspect of our club compared to other clubs.”
“It’s hard not to know everyone at this point,” he added.
The letter also cites the membership selection process as a potential area for change, suggesting that Bicker could make a reappearance at Charter after its 42-year tenure as a sign-in club.
“[Bicker] is one thing that my grad board was willing to at least put as an example,” Hamilton said. “If a group comes in with a strong group of people, a good group of people, and they have some good ideas that they want to bring to the club, our grad board is willing to consider any proposals.”
If Charter does adopt Bicker, some have suggested that there is potential for upheaval in this year’s Street Week, as the ratio of Bicker to sign-in clubs would move from 6:5 to 7:4.
“Clearly there’s a good relationship currently with Bicker and sign-in clubs,” said Meghan Slattery ’20, President of Cloister Inn and the Interclub Council (ICC). “[Bicker at Charter] would just be a little bit of a different, new, and exciting change.”
Still, Hamilton emphasized the holistic nature of the process and stated that negotiations may take place to evaluate the feasibility of whichever proposal is chosen.
“We’re really looking forward to hearing from more people, from groups that hopefully have some good ideas, and what they can bring to Charter, what we can do for them,” Hamilton said.
Additionally, if such changes take place, the effects will likely extend beyond Charter’s borders, with implications for other clubs as well as for students who do not currently frequent Prospect Avenue.
“This is a new recruitment strategy that I haven’t seen before,” said Slattery, “and I think it’s a really cool way to potentially bring people to the Street who haven’t been part of the Street before.”
To date, Charter officers have received inquiries from “a few small- to medium-size groups” and will be offering tours of the premises and guest meals to interested parties in the coming weeks. Authors of the strongest proposals will, according to the letter, be asked to meet with a “committee of Governors” in Manhattan to formally pitch their ideas.
Student proposals are due Dec. 31, 2019.