The eating clubs of Princeton have a long and convoluted history. On July 3, we commemorated the 30-year anniversary of the official New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that mandated coeducation for eating clubs that had not yet adopted the policy.
While this decision was monumental and essential for the fair treatment of womxn who wanted to join these clubs, this was just another step in a long process that began 50 years ago when the University made the decision to embrace coeducation.
It is important that we address and take responsibility for the long history of our clubs, particularly to recognize that we have so much more work to do — not only on gender equity, but on equity for all students in the Princeton community. Only after we do this may we create the future of equality and acceptance that each of our members deserve.
The events that finally turned the tide for womxn in Princeton’s eating clubs began with the conviction of white woman Sally Frank ’80, who filed a lawsuit in 1979 on the basis of gender discrimination against Tiger Inn, Ivy Club, and Cottage Club for refusing to accept womxn on the basis of gender.
While Cottage Club decided to coeducate in 1986, Ivy Club and Tiger Inn were not compelled to do so until 1991. This outcome was already 22 years after the admission of female students to Princeton and to sign-in clubs Terrace Club and Colonial Club in 1969, shortly followed by Quadrangle Club, Cloister Inn, Charter Club, Cap & Gown Club, and Tower Club by 1971.
As eating club presidents, we recognize the 30th anniversary of the coeducation of all clubs as a symbol of the struggle for acceptance within the Princeton community, and as a call to action: If we seek to create spaces where all of our members feel safe and welcome in our clubs, it is our duty to lead our members forward.
The history of social stratification in eating clubs has been integral to their existence – eating clubs are reflective of Princeton’s enrollment, and the first people to attend colleges and universities were white men.
Once womxn were able to attend Princeton, many clubs accepted them immediately, providing a welcoming community for them. In the early days of Princeton’s coeducation, there were not many womxn at the University, let alone in the clubs.
As more womxn arrived on campus, Sally Frank bravely led the coeducation initiative for the remaining three clubs, ensuring that all womxn would have an equal opportunity to become a part of our club communities. Despite initial changes to club membership, we understand that there are many issues of inclusiveness that the clubs have yet to address.
All eleven eating clubs are different legal entities, and though we all have different histories to reflect upon, we hope to take advantage of our partnership as presidents to become unified in our goal for improving our club communities. We firmly believe our clubs are capable of change. Along with acknowledging our past, we recognize our need to do better.
As leaders, we aim to create inclusive communities for our clubs. In doing so, we must question what inclusivity means and how we treat everyone equitably. To establish equitable treatment includes the acknowledgement of our problematic histories and calling in and calling out injustices that have impacted and continue to impact womxn of color, particularly Black womxn.
As mentioned earlier in our Black Lives Matter statement, our position as some of the oldest and most well-established organizations on campus provides the opportunity to recognize our complex history as part of the Princeton community regarding gender, race, and socioeconomic status. Our ICC Diversity and Inclusion Task Force is in the process of developing programming and platforms to educate our members and improve the true inclusivity and awareness of our club environments.
As individual leaders, we seek to create spaces for dialogue and education about areas for improvement. We choose solidarity through actions to address social and racial stratification in eating clubs, to uphold our commitment towards inclusivity, and move beyond recognition to action. We aim to advocate for our members of color, particularly womxn of color.
To hold ourselves accountable for our privileges and power, we are committed to pushing for meaningful improvements when recognizing racialized exclusions, intentional and unintentional, in social gatherings. We seek to acknowledge racism, and movements against racism within eating clubs that were ignored, brushed aside, covered up, or lost to history. We urge our members to consider what they can do to help change these environments that have ostracized and excluded womxn and students of color from joining, participating, and belonging to our clubs for years.
The changing composition of the Interclub Council has resulted in a more diverse membership that has pushed for sexual harassment policies and advocated for more extensive financial aid programs. In the words of Black womxn author and activist Latham Thomas, who coined the term “optical allyship,” we cannot participate in allyship that “only serves at surface level to platform the ‘ally.’”
We choose to support and fight for initiatives, working for and led by womxn and people of color, that aim to break away from oppressive systems of power. If you would like to learn more about the actions that the ICC, and/or individual clubs are taking to address social and racial justice in the clubs, we encourage you to contact us for information and resources. If you have ideas that you would like to propose, please reach out to Karthik Ramesh ’21 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Thea Zalabak ’21 (email@example.com), or Jaren McKinnie (firstname.lastname@example.org) ’21.
Coming to terms with the privileges we have is not meant to be a pleasant experience. It is natural to feel shame, anger, and guilt for the history of our institutions that we have committed ourselves to leading. Although we recognize this anniversary and celebrate Sally Frank for her bravery, we must remember to keep moving forward.
Sally Frank was not a club officer, and yet she persisted until all the clubs were coeducational. We urge all eating club members, club officers, and alumni to join us in persisting in the fight for equality, with clear intentions and meaningful actions, and as part of the Princeton community.
Members of the Interclub Council