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Princeton’s new dining pilot program just took off: 10 percent of upperclassmen students were selected to get five free swipes a week for use at any dining hall, eating club, various University vendors, or co-op. But unlike “Top Gun,” this pilot program is going nowhere fast.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to increase inclusivity in Princeton dining. It’s true that many people find it hard to keep their sophomore friend group together when most people change their dining plan at the start of their junior year. But the structure of the proposed plan doesn’t address the tangible issues of exclusivity that plague Princeton dining — to do that, we need to end Bicker.
Throughout the development of the “five flexible meals” and its pilot program, the University has ignored the best interests of students in favor of Band-Aid solutions. For instance, discussions about a full version of the plan considered a mandatory program that some estimates calculate includes a tuition increase of $1,500 per year. This increase may pose a significant financial burden for upperclassmen students on top of their fees for eating clubs and co-ops. Despite strong pushback from co-ops, club officers, and eating club graduate boards about the “five flexible meals” plan, the University decided to charge on. Administrators constantly reassure students that ‘this is just a pilot, and we’ll take feedback after,’ but their lack of consideration of the potential financial impact of a mandatory meal plan is evidence that student benefit is not their priority.
If the University really wants to make dining more inclusive, student representatives have given administrators concrete ideas that would actually help: make all eating clubs have guest swipes and allow Independents to participate in meal exchanges at eating clubs. But the best thing they can do for the Princeton dining scene is to end Bicker.
To be clear, this article is not anti-eating club. There’s nothing wrong with having smaller communities around dining, whether in eating clubs or co-ops — it’s often easier to make friends in these smaller settings, and shared meals, study spaces, and social events cultivate a sense of community. It’s likely no coincidence that many Princeton students say that they didn’t find “their people” until they were juniors. And while the eating clubs definitely have other problems that can’t be ignored, such as the extravagant cost and inherent elitism, PUID parties do tend to provide a safer and more inclusive party scene than the Greek life of other schools.
What makes the clubs exclusive is Bicker — the process of social “auditioning” that decides who you get to eat with for the next two years, based on ten minutes of awkward small talk and the impression you made your first time on the Street freshman year. The elitist process brings out the worst of Princeton’s cutthroat social culture. And everyone knows it.
Sophomores endure weeks of stress, dreaming of the heroic achievement of an invitation to Ivy Club or Tiger Inn (TI). We have heard members of Bicker clubs acknowledge that the process is unfair and complain about the long nights of arduous deliberations. Yet they perpetuate this cliquey structure by systematically asserting their dominance over underclassmen vying desperately for their approval. The exclusivity inherent in Bicker has been a problem for years, and each time calls for fundamental change have been fixed with the fresh paint of DEI policies. But no amount of ‘work to make Bicker more inclusive’ can change its fundamental nature: if members think you’re cool based on surface-level interactions, you get in.
Making all the clubs sign in would be the single most effective way to make Princeton dining more inclusive. If clubs are sign-in, you get to choose where you eat — not upperclassmen. But, somehow, people find it so hard to imagine a Princeton without Bicker. Because sign-in clubs aren’t “cool.” When Charter planned to adopt Bicker (which they backed down from), students flocked to be part of a club that would soon become exclusive. But if all the clubs were sign-in, this wouldn’t be a problem — they’d all be equally “uncool.” And we don’t think everyone’s going to suddenly decide they’re too cool for eating clubs.
Reducing exclusivity doesn’t negate the power of eating clubs to create community; instead, it creates communities in healthy ways that don’t rely on social nepotism. Picture this: Instead of sacrificing your sophomore friends to kiss up to upperclassmen, all clubs could adopt a “block” sign-in model allowing people to join with their friends. Clubs would probably still have stereotypes, spoken or unspoken — football and basketball players would probably still sign in to Cannon — but there would be far less exclusivity. In other words, your club would still be filled with people you think are cool, just with much less discrimination. And you would still have a group of 100–200 new people to meet.
Some may say that without bicker it would be harder to keep sexual predators out. While an imperfect system, sign-in clubs currently seem to be confident that their blacklists are an effective way to keep sexual predators out of parties. We acknowledge that clubs would need to figure out how to legally deny or remove membership from known sexual predators who haven’t been officially convicted.
While the Interclub Council (ICC) or club officers may not have the power to do this (as clubs are run by their Grad Boards), the University itself could ban Bicker, the same way they banned freshmen from rushing fraternities and sororities by making it against Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities — if they wanted. But we know why they don’t. Princeton’s biggest donors are likely the people who reminisce so much about their alma mater that they still manage their former eating clubs. In our opinion, these men may be terrified of anything that would further sully the good ol’ boys' clubs of Prospect Avenue.
In all, potentially charging all students $1,500 to let us swipe into clubs does nothing to increase inclusivity in dining — it just enables Bicker clubs to continue under some guise of inclusivity. Change doesn’t come from meaningless task forces and pilots. Change doesn’t come from putting alumni interests above what students have been asking for years. If they stop to listen to us, University administrators have the power to revolutionize Princeton dining: mandate guest swipes at all eating clubs, allow Independents to meal exchange, and end Bicker.
Madeleine Burns is a junior from Durango, CO on the track and cross-country team. Rakesh Potluri is a senior from Princeton, NJ and a local EMT. You can reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org or meet them for home-cooked food and backyard volleyball at the 2D co-op.