When students come to Princeton, there are more than 500 student organizations they can choose to be a part of.
The club scene is more concentrated than it might appear, however. A few large clubs dominate different areas of extracurricular life, either through their broader popularity on campus or the magnitude of their membership size. Coffee Club, the Performing Arts Council (PAC), Acaprez, the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, and the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club (E-Club) are five of them and have over the years developed extensive influence at the University. The leaders of these groups, in turn, wield significant influence within their spheres. The Daily Princetonian interviewed the leaders of these groups to learn more about their roles and their clubs’ noticeable presence on campus.
The ‘Prince’ itself is one of campus’ largest clubs, but is excluded from this analysis to avoid conflicts of interest.
Coffee Club is a social hub for the Princeton community that strives to provide the most affordable cup of coffee in Princeton and be the most inclusive and welcoming space around campus.
The student-run coffee shop went from a pop-up shop to a business of over 70 baristas across two locations. Noah James ’25, the Executive Director of Coffee Club, told the ‘Prince’ that several hundred people walk through the Campus Club and New College West (NCW) location doors every day.
In his current role, he works around 25 hours a week and handles supervising the day-to-day agenda, hiring staff, “making sure bankruptcy isn’t a problem,” and fixing the occasional espresso machine. He also serves as the liaison between Coffee Club, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS), and University administrators.
Throughout his tenure, he has helped to upgrade the furniture at the Campus Club location, learn more about the customer experience through a student survey, and manage the hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue the group makes.
James, a School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) major from Austria, joined Coffee Club only a moment after he arrived on campus as a freshman and has been an active member ever since. He joined the board a few weeks into his freshman year where he helped get the tab system off the ground, deciding where clubs on campus could host open tabs for their members to get a free drink. He emphasized that initiatives like this one help create “lower barriers to access” for students.
He later became the club’s Events Director, where he partnered with administrators on campus to make programming, such as student performers and weekly Saturday events (including comedy nights and Thursday Night programming at NCW), more prominent.
“It’s just, like, an amazing way for us to fulfill that community building rule that we have on campus or we strive to have,” he said.
In January, he started as the Executive Director, where he said that he “kind of feel[s] responsible for everything at the end of the day.”
“In an ideal world, the director isn’t involved in the day-to-day and is focusing on long-term projects,” he said. “In reality, it’s a student-run business, and it feels a lot of the time like you’re the last line of defense on some things.” James emphasized how “amazing” and dedicated the entire board is to the work that the organization does.
Baristas at Coffee Club juggle between working the Campus Club and New College West (NCW) locations, though last semester they worked at one location or the other. James emphasized that working at both locations helps baristas build community. He also remains aware of burnout with baristas and the boards and tries to keep Coffee Club “sustainable” for all.
He also mentioned the importance of Coffee Club building a community outside of its baristas.
“You can be a barista or you can be a recurring customer. You can be a one-time customer, you can be a student performer, you can be a member of one of our hundreds of partnership groups that we do events with,” he said. “Fostering the community beyond the staff too, and being able to be a friendly face in someone’s day, is super important.”
The group is a part of Princeton Student Agencies (PSA), which provides students with leadership opportunities in University-sponsored businesses. James meets with PSA once a week, which helps the group with maintenance issues and any questions that arise. According to James, being part of PSA allows Coffee club to have two shops on campus without paying rent, allowing them to “keep prices low."
He also emphasized the push for not just students, but faculty and staff to come to Coffee Club.
“[Coffee Club] is a place where students can work but it’s a place where everyone’s heart rate goes down a little bit,” he said. “That’s the most important thing and that’s something we want to preserve and make sure that it’s equitable and equal access for everybody.”
Performing Arts Council
The PAC consists of six students elected each year to represent over 35 student-run performing arts groups at the University. According to its website, PAC “strives to facilitate the showcasing of the diverse artistic talent at Princeton and to foster a spirit of collaboration and innovation amongst the student-run arts groups through procedural efficiency and clear communication.”
Julia Zhou ’24, an East Asian Studies (EAS) major, is the current president of PAC. Last year, she served as the Artistic Director of Triple 8 Dance Company. She still dances with the group.
PAC allocates performance and rehearsal spaces around campus to the groups that are part of the Council. According to Zhou, Whitman Theater and Frist Theater are wanted performance spaces on campus. Theatre Intime, Richardson Auditorium, and McCarter Theatre are not involved in the PAC lottery. Many a cappella groups book rehearsal spaces through the Music Department instead of PAC.
According to Zhou, she checks in with administrators around campus to split up spaces on campus equitably. She also helps to plan initiatives, such as Tiger Night, and promote community-building activities.
“Going in I thought of it as a community [and] initiative-based kind organization. It’s mostly working with administration,” Zhou told the ‘Prince.’ She mentioned the importance of remaining on “good terms” with University administrators.
She also emphasized that there is never as much space as there are groups around campus. In 2022, a dance group member wrote in the ‘Prince’ about what she characterized as the “social hierarchy, elitism, and bias” toward Western dance styles, specifically among a coalition of dance groups called the G4, — Disiac, Black Arts Dance Company (BAC), eXpressions, and BodyHype. The G4, though dissolved now, operates under PAC.
For events like Tiger Night and orientation events, Zhou communicated with Undergraduate Housing to guarantee early move-in for performers.
She hopes to revise the PAC lottery as “the number of campus expands.”
“We don’t have enough space to accommodate everyone’s timing,” she said.
She emphasized that PAC does a lot of “thankless work,” because if the group is doing their job well, nobody notices, compared to if they’re doing it poorly.
Regularly singing under Blair Arch, the numerous a cappella groups on campus are hard to miss. Acaprez is the coalition of the presidents of eight of these groups: the Footnotes, the Katzenjammers, the Nassoons, Roaring 20, the Tigerlilies, the Tigertones, the Tigressions, and the Wildcats. The group does not have a single President, instead using the group to coordinate. Though most important decisions about club events are still left to the individual groups, Acaprez nonetheless plays an important role in coordinating their efforts and making sure each group has its own flair. For instance, certain songs are “claimed” by each group.
“With a couple exceptions, each Acaprez group has its own unique repertoire. So the idea is that if you go to an a cappella arch, you won’t hear songs repeated,” said Jack Green ’24, a SPIA major and the current president of the Footnotes, a low voice acapella group.
Additionally, through Acaprez, the groups are able to organize their logistics more efficiently. Green explained that “during auditions and callbacks, we schedule all of our events together to make sure that they don’t conflict with each other. And then we schedule our callbacks such that people who are called back to multiple groups are able to attend all the callbacks they want.”
Though the membership of Acaprez currently consists of eight members, this may change in the future. According to Green, “Old NasSoul and Shere Khan have both expressed interest in the past in joining, especially this past January and February before spring auditions. Ultimately, they decided not to join.”
“From what I understand, historically, some members of those two groups have wanted to join and others have not, and so there hasn’t really been real consensus on their part on what they want to do. But it’s definitely been something that has been voiced recently and has been discussed, but I don'’t think there’s any movement so far,” he said.
Ultimately, Acaprez is important to organize the groups, though Green thinks that it has less of a tangible impact on groups, and said, “I don’t really think [Acaprez] really affects the day-to-day of being in a group.”
However, there are certain rules instituted by Acaprez that the member groups are bound by, including customs surrounding joining a group if one is accepted into multiple.
“If you get into an a cappella group, you can’t join any other a cappella groups,” Emily Della Pietra ‘24, current Alumni Liaison of the Tigerlilies, told the ‘Prince.’
She added that as an auditionee, “you can‘t leave and then audition for a different Acaprez group.” She also emphasizes that there is no defined leadership structure within the group, saying that the Tigerlilies‘ president, for example, is in charge of scheduling all the arch times.
The rules ensure that students who want to try out for multiple groups and callbacks have the opportunity to do so, though they also are strict in the sense of not letting all groups perform pieces and people can’t just jump around. The group has seen its membership change over time.
Della Pietra also emphasized the importance of the a cappella community to her college experience: “I constantly think I‘m so lucky to be able to sing with my friends, late at night, several times a week,” she said.
The American Whig-Cliosophic (Whig-Clio) Society is the nation’s oldest collegiate political, literary, and debate society. The group oversees multiple subsidiaries, including the International Relations Council (IRC), the Princeton Debate Panel (PDP), Princeton Mock Trial (PMT), and Princeton Model Congress (PMC).
Whig-Clio annually gives out the James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service and hosts summer fellowships. Students may interact with the group as a whole through occasional speaker events or Senate debates.
Won-Jae Chang ’24, an Economics major, is the current President of Whig-Clio. He served as secretary for two years and as a freshman officer before running for president, which he explained as a “mostly managerial” role.
“People really function on their own when it comes overall planning and event coordination,” he said.
According to Chang, upwards of 100 members are in good standing and about 30 to 40 members serve on the Governing Council.
Chang explained that back in high school, he was a part of clubs that could be toxic at times, but that joining Whig-Clio was a “very welcoming community.”
“[Whig-Clio] provides an opportunity to get involved in the political space without necessarily having to commit to like something as intense [or] as anxiety-inducing as competition,” he said.
Chang strives to facilitate that community himself as the president. He said that a lot of people involved are “very intense about politics,” but many are “more social members.”
“It’s definitely very flexible depending on how much you want to get involved,” he said.
He hopes to introduce people to “the politics space” and create an open space for people, unlike the “elitist” space he said that Whig-Clio may give off. He wishes to include as many people as possible in the organization, though he noted that there are only so many spaces available for officers.
With 550 active members and with a claimed reach of 3,000 students worldwide, E-Club is a major presence on campus for aspiring innovators. Prospective members apply to one of 14 sub-teams, though they can also join as a general member. The club currently operates with a $500,000 budget, most of which comes from the club’s own fundraising efforts (a small portion comes from the University).
The club’s efforts span a variety of initiatives, according to Co-President Kendall Jeong ’25. Subteams include TigerLaunch, a notoriously selective student-run entrepreneurship competition, and ReHack, an initiative that hosts a unique hackathon each year. The club serves as a nexus of engineering and business-focused students.
“We span a wide and diverse range of different entrepreneurial activities and ventures. So whether you’re looking to start a business, get into VC, or provide business services for startups’ potential success, we’re here to provide all that for you, along with networking and professional opportunities” she told the ‘Prince.’ She previously served as the Director of the Design Team.
Jeong emphasized that she comes from a nontraditional background in entrepreneurship, focusing primarily on the arts in high school. “From the start, I was able to find more of a community at the club than I was able to at any other organization and felt that the opportunities that were provided to me were things that I could not find in other places on campus,” she said. “I found an artistic, creative, and innovative community within the design team.”
James Zhang ‘25, a computer science (AB) major, serves as the other co-president of E-Club. He comes from a more technical background and has previously served as the club’s Gear/Social and Princeton Pitch Chair. He emphasized that because of the work done, more students are from that background to begin with.
“We do kind of see more computer science students here. We really want to increase our diversity throughout the club, but … usually, computer science students are more inclined to that climate,” he told the ‘Prince.’
Nonetheless, Zhang also noted that the club is focused on increasing its diversity, saying, “one of the goals that Kendall and I set out this year was to increase the diversity for Entrepreneurship Club, [so students from] any background, you could succeed.”
Jeong also noted the increasing reputation of the club on campus, stating that they’re “distinguishing ourselves as more professional year after year.”
When asked how they are dealing with the increased selectivity of clubs, a problem that might become more pressing with expanding class sizes, Jeong pointed to the general membership program as “one way that [they] keep [their] club inclusive.”
Why the consortiums matter
On the scale of all the clubs on campus, the consortiums may not seem to dominate a significant sphere. Yet an analysis of other clubs show that the clubs registered with the University may not be currently active. The ‘Prince’ sampled 50 clubs from the over 500 listed by the University to assess their activeness.
Some of the clubs had no officers registered with the University. A few clubs have a very high number of officers listed, with one sampled club having up to 18.
While the Class of 2024 are the seniors on campus, they don't hold all the officer positions. Members of the Class of 2026 appear to hold the most officer positions of any year, at 91, over one-third of all officers. Following is the Class of 2024 at 80 officers and the Class of 2025 at 74 officers. Sophomores may be more likely to lead clubs as juniors and seniors focus on independent work.
The ‘Prince’ also looked at which clubs where sending emails to the University listserv, a common way of recruiting students. 20 of the 50 clubs have sent no listserv emails since Sept. 5. The clubs that did send emails tended to send multiple, with a peak of three emails, at 11 clubs.
While a number of individual clubs are successful, officers who are still early in their Princeton careers, along with many clubs that are no longer active, may mean students gravitate towards the bigger clubs with larger footprints. Though the landscape of clubs at Princeton is always changing, five organizations have maintained their presence.
Lia Opperman is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’
Christopher Bao is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’
Caden Kang is a Data contributor for the ‘Prince.’
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.