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Exclusivity, Inclusiveness and Diversity

Many students and alumni commented on the strong sense of community they have felt in their clubs, describing a “familial ethos” and referring to them as homes away from home. Clearly this is one of the great strengths of the clubs, and some called upon the University to try to provide similar feelings of belonging for juniors and seniors in the residential colleges, the co-ops and the apartment-style units in Spelman.

Offsetting this powerful sense of inclusiveness within individual clubs is a strong sense of exclusivity by many students outside the clubs. Some students feel excluded because of the bicker process; this feeling is especially keen among students who are not members of the teams, organizations or fraternities/sororities that fill many of the available spaces in the bicker clubs. As many pointed out, the clubs are the center of social life at Princeton for non-club members as well as club members, so students also feel excluded when passes are used to limit access to club parties, and especially when the distribution of passes is to members of the same teams, organizations and fraternities/sororities that dominate membership. For their part, the clubs point out that as the de facto providers of most social life at Princeton, they accommodate a significant number of “free riders” (freshmen, sophomores and non-club juniors and seniors) who attend parties and other events but don’t pay membership fees. Guest passes are meant to control the volume of people at parties, create better control over the nature of the event, and reduce wear and tear on buildings that were designed to withstand only a small fraction of the current party volume.

Other barriers to a greater sense of inclusiveness across the student body include the costs of the clubs (even with the University’s enhanced financial aid program) and a sense among many non-club members that despite the differences among the clubs in membership and character, there is a similarity in reliance on alcohol and in the kinds of music, parties and events they provide. For many students of color and international students there is a perception that the clubs reflect a culture different from theirs; that social life overwhelmingly revolves around what they described as “consumption of cheap alcohol”; that most of the clubs are not racially diverse; and that the clubs reflect an “old Princeton” that was not welcoming to students of color. These students noted that some of the selective clubs are seen as limiting the number of students of color they will admit, and that there are more than marginal representations of students of color in just a handful of clubs (selective and sign-in) that are seen as especially hospitable to them. At the same time, in our conversations with minority students and international students, we were told that little effort had been made to introduce them to the clubs, and especially to the non-party aspects of club life, which account for the overwhelming majority of time that students spend at their clubs.

As a task force we don’t believe that the right answer is to persuade every student to join a club. We respect the fact that some students will prefer other arrangements, and we commend the University for providing attractive options. But we do believe that steps should be taken by the clubs and the University to remove as many barriers as possible to inclusion and to socioeconomic and ethnic diversity; to make sure that all students have as accurate and complete an understanding as possible of the benefits and attractions of the clubs; and to reduce the sense of separation between students in the clubs and students not in the clubs. Toward these ends, in addition to recommendations we have made earlier regarding the selection process and financial aid, we recommend the following:

  • More programs, some of which might require University funding, to introduce all freshmen and sophomores, including students of color and international students, to the eating clubs, and especially to the non-party aspects of club life. The University has provided support in the past for non-club members to eat at clubs (“Taste of Prospect”) and for social events at the clubs that are open to all students.
  • More University-sponsored social programming that is attractive to students who do not socialize at the clubs, to be sure that they are provided with opportunities that appeal to them, but also that is attractive to students who do socialize at the clubs as a way of taking some of the pressure off the clubs to be the principal providers of social life at Princeton. The University has taken steps in this direction in recent years, not only in the residential colleges, but at the Carl A. Fields Center and Campus Club, among other venues. Many students told us that Princeton would have a healthier social atmosphere if more social life occurred on campus, including social life that involved live music. It is recognized that University-sponsored events would have to be stringent about under-age consumption of alcohol, but it was also suggested that there could be some on-campus events (such as wine and cheese parties at the colleges) where alcohol is available for of-age students.
  • In our discussion of the importance of cultivating a more extensive social life on campus, we noted that one of the largest University funds supporting social programming is limited to activities that take place on Thursday and Saturday nights. We believe that a more holistic approach to social programming by the University would be appropriate. We also noted that not all social life on campus is or needs to be directly sponsored by the University. Historically, student organizations have sponsored major dances and other activities, such as the USG-sponsored free movie nights at the Garden Theater, and we believe these kinds of initiatives should continue to be encouraged. We were informed that it can be cumbersome and difficult to get permission for such events or to obtain access to appropriate venues.
  • Related to the last point, more occasions that increase interaction between the campus and the clubs, with movement in both directions. Shared meal plans and the provision of two meals per week in the colleges for all juniors and seniors are steps in this direction, but we could imagine more joint programming and additional and improved meal exchanges between the clubs and the colleges, with activities occurring both on campus and at the clubs. There may be merit in establishing relationships on multiple levels between some of the colleges and some of the clubs, and, as we will discuss later, in scheduling more academic activities in the clubs.
  • Candid conversation within the individual clubs and across the full range of clubs about whether they are doing everything they can to reach out and be as welcoming as possible to students from a full range of backgrounds. This might include a review of the policies that determine which students obtain passes, and a commitment to continue to offer some events that are open to all students.