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Princeton should support student-led clubs as essential to building community

A few students on a soccer field playing frisbee, with a tall building in the background.
Students play frisbee on Poe Field in the evening.
Zoe Berman / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

I fell in love with rugby when I decided to quit baseball and drive three towns over to try out a new sport during my senior year of high school. Once I got my first taste of the beautiful chaos that is rugby, I was instantly hooked on the adrenaline, teamwork, and culture of respect that define the sport. When I came to Princeton, my experience with rugby was far more than just the practices and 80 non-stop minutes on Saturdays. The club brought together students from all backgrounds and walks of life to bond as one community. Playing on that team, and co-captaining it during my senior year, ended up being one of the most important parts of my Princeton experience. To some people, club sports may appear as just a way to stay active and have fun, but to everyone who has played a club sport, they are so much more. They are a couch to crash on when traveling, an inside joke at your 10th reunion, a phone call to a struggling teammate, and a community that reminds you that you belong at Princeton.


Student-led clubs and communities are essential to the Princeton experience and what makes this school so special. These clubs are incredibly effective at knitting new students into the social fabric that will support them and allow them to support others at Princeton. Princeton has a pool of some of the best and brightest minds in the world, and when given the space to flourish, students can create and maintain pockets of a beautiful culture. These spaces allow students to feel a real sense of ownership, belonging, and responsibility. Yet, some clubs have found it difficult to bounce back from COVID-19 and flourish in the current campus climate. The post-COVID-19 treatment of club sports highlights gaps in the University’s approach to student life — the administration should shift from a top-down approach to one that seeks to support student groups and utilize student feedback to organically foster community.

Over the past years, events and policies have made it more difficult for club sports to attract students and provide meaningful leadership opportunities. With rugby, for example, a long clearance process combined with restricted field access due to construction has limited our ability to recruit new players and play full seasons. We have not been able to play our first games until the end of September or the early weeks of October, by which time all other Ivies and schools in the region are a quarter to a third through their fall seasons. Ultimate Frisbee no longer has regular access to grass fields and instead has to practice on more injury-prone turf fields during the night, which conflicts with meals and typical study times. Other sports have been impacted such as club baseball, which did not have access to a baseball field during my senior year after their last field was removed for new athletic facilities. These are just a few examples and, generally, clubs have struggled with poor school administration communication, late practice times, and scarce resources. These challenges became especially acute immediately after remote school during COVID-19 when club sports were not allowed to practice in any capacity for much of the year, hurting recruitment and the knowledge transfer from graduating seniors to younger classes.

Although Princeton dedicates vast resources to its undergraduates, those resources could be used more effectively. Princeton has a large administration with one of the highest ratios of employees to students in the country. A 2018 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education found Princeton had 74.2 full-time managers per 1,000 students, seventh in the nation for non-profit four-year institutions. This number was second only to Yale in the Ivy League at 81.4. Penn was a distant third at 55.3. The median for 931 colleges was 14.4. Recently, Princeton created another position within residential colleges, residential life coordinators, to help foster community and belonging. However, a top-down approach with a heavy emphasis on administrative control is unlikely to bear fruit because students will still struggle to find community and support without student leadership. I would argue that the larger University-controlled residential colleges with random placement and muted identities have failed to cultivate the same sense of belonging and culture as smaller institutions with more student leadership such as the eating clubs and co-ops. Although Princeton’s campus life strategic plan for 2020–2025 heavily emphasizes positives such as service and inclusion, student leadership is referenced just once with the phrase “student-led initiatives” in a general mission statement. Clubs are only briefly mentioned. 

The well-being of the undergraduate community has far-reaching impacts, from future career opportunities to the mental and physical health of students. Unfortunately, I think the state of student life has steadily deteriorated, at least during my time at Princeton. While this complex problem will have complex solutions, a crucial component is the ability of students to support and connect with each other. No one is better equipped to understand the needs of Princeton students than other Princeton students. I cannot count how many teammates have said that rugby got them through Princeton, and this sentiment was echoed by many students I talked to in other clubs. 

With so much “new” on campus, I hope the Princeton administration can support the sub-cultures that have developed over decades and provide the space for new ones to grow. These fragile communities are vastly harder to rebuild than to maintain. Truly empowered student-led communities will be messy, and there will be mistakes. However, I firmly believe the learning opportunities and space for ownership are valuable to the students and the long-term health of Princeton’s community. To the administration, I hope that you can understand the concerns that I have raised and consider meaningful shifts in your approach toward working with student clubs and leaders. Policies and decisions must stay grounded in the very human experiences students have each day at Princeton that cannot be fully captured by statistics or a U.S. News ranking. To the current students, I hope you all can continue to support each other and do amazing work. I’m humbled to think I attended a school with so many smart and dynamic people, and I encourage you to make those commitments to clubs and culture.

Tim Frawley is a member of the Class of 2022. He can be reached at


Editor’s Note: The Daily Princetonian did not independently verify the writer’s claims about field usage for the club rugby, ultimate frisbee and baseball teams.

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