Findings & Recommendations
As a task force, we find that the eating clubs are an integral part of Princeton’s history and distinctiveness. They make positive contributions to the Princeton experiences of many students (and thus alumni), and they shape the Princeton social scene even for students who are not members. There are clear strengths that derive from the relatively small size of the clubs, which allow members to feel at home and get to know each other through a variety of shared experiences that include meals, intramural competitions, recreational and social activities of many kinds, service activities, networking with alumni members of the clubs, and just hanging out. There are also strengths that derive from the degree of responsibility that students are given to participate in the management and programming of the clubs. We value the fact that each club has a distinctive identity, which presents students with a diversity of options regarding club membership. The clubs are an asset to the University: although independent of the University and thus privately financed, they feed two-thirds of the University’s juniors and seniors, provide a center of social life for all students, and generate lifelong connections to the clubs and the University for many alumni. We believe that the University and its students are well served by the positive contributions that the clubs make to Princeton.
We are encouraged by the degree to which the continuing operation of the clubs has been incorporated into the University’s planning for the residential colleges and other social and dining options. One distinctive aspect of the Princeton social dynamic is the opportunity students have in the middle of sophomore year to make decisions about where and how they want to live, eat and socialize for their final two years at Princeton. Many commented positively on the chance this provides to decide whether to remain with the friends of freshman and sophomore year or to set out to make new friends (or some combination of both), and many commended the separation of living spaces from social and dining spaces which allows them to have both “dorm friends” and “club friends.” The University has developed attractive options in the four-year colleges, in the co-ops, and otherwise for students who wish to elect these options. But it has done so in ways that anticipate that eating clubs will continue to play a central role in the lives of most juniors and seniors, and in ways that seek to increase interaction between the campus and the clubs. We believe students are best served by a social climate in which choices are available to them and in which all choices are seen as parts of a larger totality, rather than as competing or mutually exclusive domains.
We are also encouraged by a number of developments in recent years that seem to have improved the experiences of students in the clubs and the relationships between the clubs and the University. A number of these developments are mentioned elsewhere in our report, but they include the identification of “best practices” governing several aspects of club operations, including the provision of alcohol; improvements in the process by which the bicker clubs notify their new members; modifications in the University’s financial aid policies to recognize the costs of club meal contracts; the introduction of shared meal plans; and even the appointment of this task force to encourage conversation about the clubs and their relationships with the University.
At the same time, as one member of the task force said at one of our meetings, there is “a dark side.” There are concerns that derive from the “culture of alcohol” that seems to characterize much of club life; a selection process that many describe as hurtful; and the development of pipeline relationships into a number of the selective clubs that help sustain Greek organizations that many feel are incompatible with the Princeton residential experience. The clubs also continue to be a polarizing force, for reasons that seem to derive in part from a social stratification that persists despite a number of efforts to ameliorate it, with students from lower-income families and minority groups participating less fully in the clubs than other students.
Finally, concerns have been expressed about the continuing financial viability of the clubs, and especially the sign-in clubs, particularly in the current financial climate. Financial soundness varies among the clubs, with some well capitalized and others not. Given the age and nature of their buildings, the clubs can incur significant costs for major maintenance, and extensive renovations can trigger requirements to bring the buildings into compliance with more stringent building codes. As a task force we believe it is important to sustain both a critical mass of clubs and a significant number of spaces available on a sign-in basis. Further erosion in either the number of clubs or the availability of sign-in spaces would make it more difficult for the clubs increasingly to reflect the full diversity of the Princeton student body. We recognize that to achieve these goals actions may be necessary to secure the financial underpinnings of the clubs (especially the sign-in clubs).
In the remaining sections of this report, we bring forward observations and recommendations that we hope will serve to reaffirm the strengths of Princeton’s eating clubs while also addressing concerns and challenges that even supporters of the clubs acknowledge, and that will strengthen relationships between the clubs and the University. We hope and believe that these concerns and challenges can be addressed and these relationships can be improved.