We are the team of students responsible for the Charter Co-op Eating Club proposal. While we were initially hesitant to address Charter’s decision to go Bicker publicly, many of our supporters have urged us to share our thoughts. We’d like to acknowledge that some of us personally know leaders of the winning proposal team and have nothing but love and respect for them as individuals. However, we believe they and the Charter Board of Governors have made a mistake in replacing the club’s longstanding sign-in policy with bicker.
In late November, the Charter Board of Governors issued an open letter to the student body calling for proposals to take the club in a “bold new direction.” Several proposals were submitted, and a few teams were invited to meet with the Board in New York City. On Jan. 15 the Board announced to members its plan to convert Charter into a Bicker club in the spring of 2021.
Our proposal to shift Charter to a co-op eating club model was more than merely “bold” — it was a radically untraditional and unprecedented approach to making an eating club truly inclusive and financially accessible. Because of this, we knew from the start that we would have to put in extra work to show that our idea is both in high demand and genuinely feasible. We believe we achieved both.
We demonstrated extensive campus enthusiasm and support for our vision, including 120 sophomores and juniors who personally wanted to be a part of it in the coming year. And using Charter Club’s public financial records (as well as extensive research into the operations of large-scale co-ops at Stanford and UC Berkeley), our model was able to lower the yearly cost to $2,350 per member. We then wrote a comprehensive 34-page proposal, detailing club identity, just transition, logistics, financials, etc.
Our proposal was selected as one of the finalists, and we were invited to present it before the Board. However, less than two hours before our planned train ride to New York, we received a call. Without waiting to hear and further discuss our proposal in person, the Board had chosen another plan.
While we are of course disappointed that the Board did not choose our proposal for a truly inclusive and financially accessible co-op eating club, we are more disappointed by their decision to reinforce rituals of social partition and hurt on the Street.
The winning proposal purports to create a more inclusive and accessible space on the Street by converting Charter into a Bicker club, among other changes. We applaud the proposal’s goals of inclusivity and accessibility, but not its method. At the end of the day, Bicker will always be an exercise in judgement and exclusion, and a $9,000 price tag on community will always be an insurmountable barrier to entry for many students.
The Board’s decision is evidence that harmful institutions such as Bicker are not some passive status quo. They exist because the Princeton community reinforces them — either actively (as in the case of the Charter Board’s decision) or, in the case of the six other socially exclusive clubs, by a failure to act. We are not stuck with Bicker for a lack of better options. We’ve shown that better options exist, and that they are within our reach. We are stuck with Bicker because we, as a community and as individuals, continue to choose Bicker.
But this choice is by no means unanimous. Hundreds of students, both current and former, have expressed their enthusiasm and support for our cause, and many more have vented their discontent online over Charter’s decision to switch to Bicker. Students on this campus are becoming increasingly vocal: they are calling for a Princeton where students can find community and break bread irrespective of wealth or social status.
If there’s one thing that this proposal process showed us, it is that the demand for truly affordable and inclusive dining communities on this campus is absolutely tremendous — and, considering that hundreds of students are currently on co-op waiting lists, that it far exceeds the number of such options currently available.
If the Street will not listen to the needs and desires of the student body, we hope that perhaps the University will. We call on the University to create new co-ops to meet the growing demand for truly inclusive and financially accessible dining spaces on this campus.
Better options than Bicker exist. It’s time for us to start prioritizing them.