|By Laughthink (Laughthink) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 08:59 am: Edit|
I’ve read posts on CC accusing Princeton eating clubs of being elitist and divisive. But I’ve also noticed an interesting aspect of the criticism –- it all comes from people who don’t attend Princeton. The barbs seem to especially emanate from current Yale and Harvard students. Why they feel such a need to spread their negative view on eating clubs is curious. As one who did in fact go to Princeton and belonged to an eating club, I’d like to offer a more personal perspective.
Like many CC viewers, I was fortunate enough to be admitted to Princeton, Harvard and Yale. I selected Princeton for academic reasons. It’s not that I didn’t consider a college’s social life to be important –- I very much believe it’s vital. I just figured that anywhere there were bright, interesting students, I would find my niche. And I still think that’s true. But in high school, I didn’t know an eating club from a secret society from a finals club from a hole in the ground. I congratulate those CC posters who have such fully developed opinions on eating clubs. They are much more knowledgeable and sophisticated consumers than I ever was back then.
I absolutely loved my eating club experience and so did the vast majority of people I knew at Princeton. Why? Well, why do P, H and Y have residential colleges to subdivide their student bodies? To create smaller, more intimate communities in which students can feel more at home. I think residential colleges are a great idea. Eating clubs are a logical extension of the same concept.
Residential colleges at P, H and Y generally have 400-500 students. Eating clubs have less than half that number of members, usually about 100-150. They’re even closer, warmer social infrastructures. The most descriptive word I can think of to convey my eating club experience is “comfortable.” I was very good friends with almost every single member of my club. (Yes, there were a couple of jerks, but you take the bad with the good.) It’s quite literally true that it’s almost impossible to be in an eating club and not have at least a hundred very close friends.
Even a residential college of 400-500 students is large enough that you can’t know everybody well. It’s about the size of a typical high school class with many of the same social phenomena taking place. In particular, it further subdivides into the usual cliques. We’ve all been to high school. You know what I’m talking about. But once the number of people in a group gets down below 150, a different social dynamic takes over. At that size, you really DO know everybody well. You see them and eat with them every day. If your high school cafeteria is like mine, after you buy your lunch, you head to the same table every day and eat with the same 10-15 close friends. Well, in an eating club, that “same table” is the whole dining room. There’s no need to synchronize going to meals with your friends because some will always be there. You know EVERYBODY. It’s a fantastic social environment.
Obviously, Princeton’s clubs are self-selected in a way that residential colleges aren’t. But the criticism that they therefore are divisive does not logically follow. By the time you join a club at the end of your sophomore year, you’ve already been in a residential college of roughly 450 randomly assigned people for two years. You’ve had a broad experience and made a variety of friends. Those friends don’t go away. You eat at their clubs and they eat at yours using meal transfers -- very simple. You spend time at all the clubs, especially on party nights. Junior year, my girlfriend was not in my club. Senior year, she was (different girlfriend, that is). No big deal. Of my eight roommates junior and senior year, only one was in my club. I loved the fact that I had a circle of friends from my dorm, a different group from my eating club, a third network from my academic department, and two further circles from my two major extracurricular activities. These various groups of friends overlapped, but were separate and distinct in a very healthy way.
I concede that eating clubs are probably most appropriate for people who by their personality are “joiners” and that not everybody is one. That’s why 25% of Princeton upperclassmen choose another option, whether it be staying in their underclass residential college for another two years, joining one of two student-run co-ops, or cooking for themselves. Some people just eat at the Frist Campus Center. No problem. Different strokes for different folks. But I submit that most Ivy League students by nature ARE joiners. And those people who want to be more “independent” have a wider range of options at Princeton than they do at almost any other school. If you’re a “joiner,” you win. If you’re not, you still win.
Hey, eating clubs aren’t for everybody. But I think that the vast majority of the kind of high-achieving, sociable people who are drawn to the Ivy League would LOVE them. My point isn’t that everyone should attend Princeton or join a club. But if you’re thinking about Princeton for academic reasons (and, yes, I think I chose correctly), then don’t be dissuaded by any CC eating club nay-sayers.
Think about it. Princeton and Harvard have the highest retention and graduation rates in the country. Princeton has by far the highest alumni donation rates. The totally unscientific and anecdotal Princeton Review lists Princeton in its “happiest students” category. If you’ve ever attended a Princeton reunion, you know that alumni are whacky in love with the institution. If Princeton students and graduates are THAT fond of the place, how could eating clubs be anything but a great experience for the vast majority of people who go through there?
But don’t take my word for it. Visit the campus, talk to the students and form your own opinion. Just don’t take as gospel the word of anybody who criticizes the eating clubs from the distant vantage point of New Haven or Cambridge, okay?
|By Prtonhopful (Prtonhopful) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 09:50 am: Edit|
Thank you for sharing your experience. It looks like it took you some time to write all that but I believe I benefited from it and so will others. That paragraph about "joiners" was especially helpful.
|By Rhino (Rhino) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 12:18 pm: Edit|
Interesting, my daughter is at princeton now, had other choices, and chose princeton for academic reasons too. She went there quite determined NOT to join one of those "elitist eating clubs". Now two years later she has quite a different view, thinks the eating clubs are one great social option among many on campus, has joined an eating club, has 7 roomates none of whom are in her club, and is on an athletic team whose members are not, for the most part, in her eating club either. She sees the eating clubs as a great addition to campus, with the unfortunate reputation of being elitist, but the reality is quite different. In short, she is absolutely in love with the school and thinks she made the right choice.
|By Gianievve (Gianievve) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:22 pm: Edit|
Thank you for your insightful comments, Laughthink. It is great to hear about Princeton's eating clubs from someone who has experienced it first hand ... This board will become the *official* reference guide for all future discussions about 'Princeton Eating Clubs'!
|By Inhaven (Inhaven) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:23 pm: Edit|
Thanks for shedding some light on that subject and I am sure most members would benefit from their eating club experiences. However, is there a healthy respect for differences in culture or races at these clubs? Is one's comfort level mostly up to the open-mindedness of the individual?I would very much appreciate your view on this.
|By Philntex (Philntex) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 04:46 pm: Edit|
Laughthink, you're awesome. Thank you so much for that. Much of what you said appealed to my own wants and expectations of college life. I especially like how you brought up that at Princeton you get the best of both worlds: two years of rescols and two years to do what you want in an environment that is like a rescol but smaller. Great post!
|By Anticipatory (Anticipatory) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:45 am: Edit|
I would also like to thank you for your post, as it answered a lot of questions that I had about the validity of other opinions on this board. If you have any spare time to share your thoughts on other aspects of life at Princeton, such as the social scene or those academics of which you were so fond, PLEASE do so. I know I speak for many others on this board who read your initial post when I say that your refreshingly authentic and extremely helpful insights will provide much peace of mind to those who have not yet experienced what you have. We sincerely appreciate the fact that you are taking time out of your schedule to help us out. Thanks again.
|By Foreigngrad (Foreigngrad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 04:13 am: Edit|
"Of my eight roommates junior and senior year, only one was in my club. I loved the fact that I had a circle of friends from my dorm, a different group from my eating club, a third network from my academic department, and two further circles from my two major extracurricular activities. These various groups of friends overlapped, but were separate and distinct in a very healthy way." (Laughthink)
"Now two years later she has ... joined an eating club, has 7 roomates none of whom are in her club, and is on an athletic team whose members are not, for the most part, in her eating club either." (Rhino)
These 2 remarks mirror what in my mind is the whole essence of diversity of a college experience: it does not mean that as a junior or senior you constantly change the (intellectual or social or ec) environments day by day, but rather that you participate in (different, or 'diverse') collective endeavors that exist and thrive in their own right, thereby meeting a wide variety of talented people and learning from them, no matter what it is. Also, both these remarks (yes thank you, laughthink, for that authentic insight!)somehow prove that it is 'normal' at Princeton (for juniors and seniors) to belong to a deeply personal 'comfort zone' (aka eating club) on one hand without neglecting the abundant opportunities to interact with many other people with very diverse talents (i.e. outside the club) at other occasions of the day (seminars, varsity sports, other ec's, room-mates etc. etc.).
Appr. 75% of all juniors and seniors belong to an eating club. Even the (selective) "bicker clubs" (meanwhile 6 out of 11) take in more people than they turn away, which means they are in a very literal sense FAR less 'exclusive' than the university itself (!), and this not out of questionable 'elitism', but simply due to capacity constraints, i.e. demand exceeding supply (aka number of people a building infrastructure can take in without overcrowding).
Of those who don't belong to one (the remaining 25%) only a minority (don't misread as: minorities!) wanted to become a member, but unluckily did not get a chance (if a fundamental criticism against the eating clubs was warranted, then the fact that while you are highly likely to be able to join one - although not necessarily the one of your 1st choice, as everywhere in life - you are not guaranteed a spot). The majority of those "not joining" a club "still win" (as laughthink cunningly observed), because Pton today - and more so in the future - offers sufficient alternative eating options for upperclass (wo)men, including the option to remain in a residential college for 4 years (from 2006 on).
Also don't forget: eating is just ONE of the daily activities people spend time with. For most students not the most important one at that. There are many other occasions during the day to interact socially.
|By Laughthink (Laughthink) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 03:01 pm: Edit|
Wow, thanks to everybody who replied and thanks especially for the kind words. I think your responses speak to the fact that, in contrast to many other schools, there are virtually no Princeton students or alumni who post here on CC about their experiences. I’d like to think that this means Princeton students are busy studying and/or enjoying themselves. I hope it’s a healthy (and mature) sign that so few Princetonians spend their time telling others how nice they have it. I’ll post more later and try to answer as many questions as I can.
First, some facts. “Foreigngrad,” you have your facts straight. There are 11 clubs of which 5 are selective, 5 are not, and one seems to go back and forth. Collectively, there is comfortably more club “capacity” than there is student body to fill it. All of the clubs except one accept more students than not. (The one exception is the smallest selective club, which usually takes about 40% of students who try.) If you want to join a non-selective club, you WILL get into one. Students can sign up for the non-selective clubs in groups up to six. A computer picks the new members and, chances are, you’ll get into your first choice club with up to five of your friends. Even two groups of six trying together have pretty good odds of both making it into their top pick.
“Philntex,” you summarize the Princeton social landscape very well. Residential colleges are a terrific idea and, at Princeton, you get two years of that experience. After that, if you like that concept of a smaller social infrastructure within a larger university, the eating clubs are the ultimate “personal comfort zone,” as “Foreigngrad” aptly puts it. If you want something less intimate, you can choose from a variety of options, whether structured (another two years of residential college), unstructured (cook for yourself or eat at the Frist Campus Center) or something in-between (joining a student-run co-op, where you plan your meals and cook together).
“Inhaven,” you ask a great question. In contrast to the stereotype, I think eating clubs are actually MORE inclusive than residential colleges. Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of residential colleges, both at Princeton as well as Harvard and Yale. But at 400-500 students each, compare them in size to your high school class. They’re still big enough that you can’t know everybody well. As a result, there’s still the phenomenon where the African-American students are more likely to sit at one table, the Latino students at another, etc. Similarly, the athletes and artsy types also hang out together. Name any standard high school clique and it probably applies to some extent. When you don’t know everybody, you tend to self-select toward those you know best. That’s simple human nature and true on every campus in America.
But the eating clubs, at 100-150 members each, are small enough that you DO know everybody in your club. You see them every day. That familiarity makes all the difference in the social dynamic. The clubs are a true social mélange. If you visit a club during meal time, I GUARANTEE that you will not see the African-American students at their own table, athletes at another and so forth. (Parenthetically, even the clubs with the most aristocratic reputations have had African-American presidents in recent years.) Now, I’ll concede that, while each of Princeton’s residential colleges has almost exactly a 28% minority presence (the overall percentage on campus), the percentage at the clubs is generally lower than that. Critics like to seize upon this as prima facie evidence that the clubs are divisive. But I assert that, at the eating clubs, there is more GENUINE interaction between various cliques than there is in any residential college, at Princeton or anywhere else. Which is more important, having exactly the same 28% proportion in every single residential college or promoting STRONG bonds between people of different backgrounds?
Here’s one snippet of perspective. When the eating clubs elect new officers every year (president, social chairman, dining chairman, etc.), in contrast to every other student election I’ve ever seen, there are no posters or speeches -- no campaigning at all, for that matter. At my club, we took nominees on a Wednesday, held a vote the following Friday, announced the new officers that night over dinner, gave them a standing ovation and threw a big party that night –- simple as that. The point is that there’s no need for campaigning because everybody ALREADY knows everybody as well as possible.
It comes back to a point in my original post. If, as a minority student or anybody else, you want the eating club experience, you will find a warm, welcoming reception. If clubs aren’t your cup of tea, for whatever reason, Princeton offers more other options for you than any college I know of.
“Inhaven,” I think you hit the nail right on the head. Your comfort level will depend on your open-mindedness. As with any human organization, if you EXPECT not to feel welcome, you probably won’t feel welcome. But if you come with an open mind, it’s quite likely that you’ll be very comfortable, I assure you.
|By Inhaven (Inhaven) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 07:32 pm: Edit|
Thanks again for such an insightful and helpful response and for keeping it at such a mature level. You are correct, unequal proportions propagating through every smaller unit at Princeton does not mean that the units are divisive. The mere idea that there is some genuine interaction between the various groups at the eating clubs adds to the fact that one's experience depends on one's maturity and sophistication.
I can clearly see why you had a choice between Princeton, Harvard and Yale. There is no luck to that. Good luck in your studies and do post on your other experiences,if time permits.
To all of you Princeton hopefuls,like myself, good luck to you too. I will be too busy to be on this board.
|By Philntex (Philntex) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 01:51 am: Edit|
Awesome. I copied, pasted, and saved that last response, Laughthink. We really do need more Princetonians/Princeton alumni perspectives on this board. I would really love to know first hand what students think about the school and its institutions. I guess that's why I'm so excited to be visiting in November; the truth will come out then, hopefully.
And Inhaven, good luck to you, too. Come back in mid-Dec when we're all getting the big news!
|By Mzhang23 (Mzhang23) on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 02:29 am: Edit|
I came to Princeton with quite a negative view of the eating clubs. In three weeks, that view has totally changed and now I'm quite fine with their existence.
Report an offensive message on this page E-mail this page to a friend
|Posting is currently disabled in this topic. Contact your discussion moderator for more information.|
|Administrator's Control Panel -- Board Moderators Only|