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What We Heard

As indicated earlier, more than 650 students, alumni and other members of the University community offered comments through the task force website. Another two dozen alumni e-mailed directly to the task force. There were more than 20 structured conversations about the work of the task force, and countless informal conversations — all of which indicated broad interest in what we had been asked to do.

While it is clear that students and alumni have divergent perspectives on the nature of the club experience and about the relationships between the clubs and the University, the similarities in what we heard were much more striking than the differences. To put it most simply, even those who expressed the greatest concerns or disappointments about the clubs recognized their benefits and strengths, and even the strongest proponents of the clubs recognized their shortcomings. Even more striking was the convergence on the issues on which the task force was encouraged to focus, a convergence that shaped our deliberations and the nature of this report. We also were reminded repeatedly that there are significant differences among the clubs; as one person said, the clubs have 10 different “social, financial and operational situations.” In many cases this constrains our ability to think of the clubs “monolithically” or as a “system.”

For the remainder of this section, we want to give some flavor of what we heard from those who commented on our website. But first let us list the eight topics that we were encouraged again and again to focus on in our report:

  • Alcohol and safety
  • Financial aid and cost (and by extension, the socioeconomic stratification of the clubs)
  • Bicker
  • Fraternities and sororities
  • Issues related to exclusivity, inclusiveness and diversity
  • Communications and representations about the clubs
  • Club engagement in academic life and community service
  • Relationships between the University and the clubs.

Excerpts of Comments Submitted through the Website

The first excerpt is from an alumnus who did not give his class. The others are from alumni/ae and students whose classes are indicated.

The clubs were one of my most treasured experiences at Princeton and are a jewel in the University’s crown. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the diversity, leadership opportunities, tradition, safety and social mixing that the clubs enable. They provide a safe party atmosphere (no driving to bars, underage drinking monitoring programs, personally responsible, accountable, and caring leaders). They provide a useful re-mixing of the social scene halfway through Princeton (I met a whole set of new friends from other residential colleges).
Class of 2010: They create a safer atmosphere for drinking … and create cohesive communities on campus that are supportive of their members. Eating clubs encourage a “mixing” type of atmosphere. Sitting with people you do not know and meeting new people over meals is much more common here than in the dining hall.
Class of 2000: My eating club introduced me to a whole new group of friends whom I would not have met otherwise. … More than any other place, it is my “home” at Princeton. I think each of the clubs is different, but on the whole I value the system tremendously. I value their independence from the school as it gives students a true feeling of ownership. The smaller environments of the eating clubs create more personal communities within the larger institution, which will be increasingly important as the student body grows.
Class of 1976: I feel that the high cost and culture of the clubs tend to make the clubs less diverse economically and racially.
Class of 2012: I think the class divide in the eating clubs is one of the biggest problems.
Class of 2010: If I have learned one thing as a club member, it is that the eating experience far outweighs the nights out. Though I still love formals, theme nights, bands and DJs, what I will remember most is the experience of eating at round tables, studying at the club with my friends, and sampling the food and cultures at other clubs with meal exchanges. … I don’t think the University realizes what variety there is in the clubs and the way in which they can be a place for students to find a social niche (in whichever club it may be). … I think much concern centers on the bicker process. Perhaps the process could be somehow adjusted so that students would be able to bicker more than one club — some sort of mutual selection? I have plenty of friends who have been “hosed” and agree that not only is it a terrible term, it is not a fun experience.
Class of 1973: I think bicker as it is now is horrible — so hurtful and unnecessarily so. Should go back to the system of ranking which clubs you want and a “match” like in medical internships between your ranking and the club’s ranking of you is so much better. … Every student who bickers should be guaranteed a spot at some club.
Class of 1957: I believe strongly in the eating club experience for undergraduates, the opportunities gained from this experience (intramural sports, community volunteer activities) and the separation of social activities from dormitory life which broadens experiences for undergraduates on campus (unlike the fraternal system on most university campuses). … In summary, I believe Princeton has in its eating club “system” the best of any college or university because it provides for small social settings and gives undergraduates the ability to govern themselves.
Class of 2011: I have enjoyed spending time at my club doing all sorts of things: eating, studying, partying or just hanging out. I think the eating clubs are an excellent way for upperclassmen to take some ownership over their Princeton experience.
Class of 1977: In my experience talking to high school students, the eating clubs are a real deterrent to attracting some of the most academically curious and interesting high school students to Princeton.
Class of 1990: The University must actively acknowledge the existence of the clubs in admissions. … The University must deal with the issue of on campus fraternities, which create unfair advantages for their members in the bicker process. These fraternities also create cliques beginning in freshman year which takes away from the Princeton experience and is counter to all of the reasons why the clubs select members in sophomore year.
Class of 2011: I think the task force should focus on keeping the eating clubs a safe environment for students and making them financially accessible for all students.
Class of 1959: I would suggest that the task force look at how the clubs could be better integrated into the entire Princeton experience. They can remain independent and yet be an integral part of the University.