I was shocked and grieved to learn this week that Charter will re-establish Bicker, a move I strongly oppose. I am a member of Charter’s class of 1976 — and a member of the group who began the fight for Charter to become non-selective and who celebrated when that fight succeeded in 1977.
Bicker is inimical to the mission of the University. College should be a time when students meet and exchange ideas with people from different backgrounds and who have different values and perspectives. When a social club can select for a particular type of person, it narrows its members’ college experience. The clubs already divide the campus roughly along socio-economic lines in a way that is unhealthy for the community and prevents the broadest exchange of ideas. Bicker exacerbates that divide.
My experience as a member of the Bicker selection committee solidified my antipathy for Bicker. Short interviews with strangers do not reveal whether someone will become a good friend or dinner companion. The system favors extroverts over introverts, wealthy over poor, socially comfortable over slightly awkward. Decisions about applicants can be impulsive and can be swayed by the loudest voices in the room. Students who are left out often feel terrible — recoiling from an unnecessary assault on their self-worth.
Selectivity also allows club members to believe they are better than others. It promotes arrogance. It solidifies social class structures. College is not a time to hide in a cocoon to avoid anyone who might not be “enough,” no matter how that might be defined.
One reason Charter has trouble attracting students has nothing to do with Bicker but instead with its relatively distant location on the Street for non-engineers. Even when Charter had Bicker when I was a member, the club rejected only a few students — students the club could easily have absorbed. Bicker is unlikely to change Charter’s fortunes in any lasting way.
I fail to understand why a group of students who want to commit to Charter need Bicker to entice them to do so. If they want to change the direction of the club, they should sign in together. If there are too many Friday night open houses, limit them to once a month. Bicker is not a prerequisite for changing the club’s social schedule. Once the club allows Bicker, any new group’s inclusivity ideals will be lost over time.
For over 40 years, I have been proud that Charter has been open to everyone. Princeton has moved in the direction of inclusivity and tolerance, and it is deeply distressing to hear that Charter plans to move in the opposite direction. The choice Charter’s board and members are making could last for decades. Many club members in the 1970s made sustained efforts to eliminate Bicker, and we hoped that our achievement would remain as an enduring legacy.
Susan Spock is a member of the University’s Class of 1976.