Exclusives: Raising Kate
PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eating clubs bring
out the best and worst
By Kate Swearengen '04
I was eating at Forbes the other day when I saw the signs. There
were at least 30 of them, and they were plastered to the bulletin
boards that face the cafeteria entrance. "If anyone found my
silver Kenneth Cole watch, please call (telephone number). It was
lost somewhere at Forbes on Friday, amidst all of the Bicker chaos."
Indeed, the Bicker and sign-in process for eating clubs may have
ended, but the damage isn't over. Yeah, you survived initiations,
and antibiotics killed off any germs you picked up from licking
the toilet seats in Firestone. The folks at Craft Cleaners managed
to save your mohair coat. You may be able to get your self-respect
back, and you may even have licked Tabasco sauce off a tanned, taut
stomach for the last time. But that silver Kenneth Cole watch is
I mean, before reading those signs, I never knew that Kenneth
Cole made watches. Shoes, yes, but timepieces? For years, I had
just assumed that the man was a footwear specialist. I guess it's
a good thing I didn't go through Bicker.
Not that I'm making any kind of point. Signing into an eating
club, I've been told, doesn't give me carte blanche to spout populist
rhetoric. After all, when the sign-in clubs go door-to-door in the
dorms to pick up their new members, they spill the same pungent
champagne all over the hallway. Okay, maybe it's not the same champagne.
I can't imagine Ivy toasting its new members with the same stuff
that the Terrace people spilled on me. But in any case, the janitor
is the one who gets stuck cleaning it up in the morning.
People say that sign-in clubs are more equitable, because selection
to these clubs is based on a lottery, which is overseen by one of
Princeton's many deans. Tuition for the sign-in clubs is also cheaper.
Most important, the sign-in clubs generally don't run on passes,
which means that you can get in, even if you're not a member of
that club. Even if you're only a freshman. Well, at least most of
Of course, some people don't like the idea of having eating clubs
at all. Woodrow Wilson felt this way, and campaigned against the
system during his tenure as Princeton's president. After failing
to elicit change, he moved on to bigger and better things, like
the White House and self-determination. The most recent challenge
to the eating clubs came last year, from a project called "Rethink
The Street." Students were supposed to submit plans to transform
Prospect Street, and the author of the winning proposal would be
awarded $5,000. What ended up happening was that the deadline for
submissions was extended several times, and, if a winner was ever
selected, it was poorly publicized. The group that mounted the campaign
has since changed focus, and is currently devoting itself to the
planning of the sixth residential college.
Heck, if anyone should be against the eating clubs, it should
be those Woodrow Wilson School people who pursue an academic curriculum
named for the 28th president. Don't they realize that in bickering
Tower en masse, they're dishonoring the man who gave them the Fourteen
Points and a virtual lock on a nice ambassadorship? Or is it just
that faced with the prospect of abstaining from marijuana or kinky
sexual behavior during their undergraduate years (these things have
an ugly tendency to resurface during senatorial campaigns), thumbing
their noses at poor old Woodrow Wilson is the next best thing?
Who knows. I'm just glad that this semester will be my last with
Princeton University Dining Services. My parents, for their part,
are glad that I'll finally be eating vegetables. They're happy with
my decision, aside from the fact that eating leafy greens at Terrace
means that I'll be absorbing second-hand smoke at the same time
that I'm absorbing vitamin B.
Of course, not everyone is happy. Charter was a popular choice
this year, and the club filled up in the first round of sign-ins,
thus relegating some students to the waiting list. Then there are
the casualties of Bicker, who have to recover from the knowledge
that a week's worth of interviews and public embarrassment wasn't
enough to make the club members like them. Or, at least, enough
to make them think they were good enough to eat with. Heck, even
people who did get into their first choice clubs may have second
thoughts. Tiger Inn, which is a notoriously popular club with a
notoriously disgusting Bicker process, didn't release its statistics
this year. Rumor has it that this is because so few people chose
to bicker Tiger Inn, the club only turned nine people away. You
have to wonder if a lot of T.I.'s applicants swallowed carp needlessly.
And even if you're happy with the club you joined, your parents
may not be. This is the case with my friend Margaret, whose father
is less than enthused that she joined Terrace.
"Isn't that the gay club, Margaret?" he asked her.
"It is," he persisted. "I see their name on all
the Gay Pride posters around campus. Terrace sponsors all of it."
"First you stop going to Mass," he went on. "Then
you start eating at the Center for Jewish Life. Now you've joined
Terrace will be holding its initiations next weekend. Wait until
he hears about that.
You can reach Kate Swearengen