Before I came to Princeton, I knew some things about eating clubs—the differences between bicker and sign in and the existence of ‘passes’ to gain entry to the bicker clubs. I also was aware that fraternities and sororities existed, but only because when I visited as a senior in high school, a friend from home told me about his rush experience. When the news broke that freshman rush was banned, it barely registered as something that would affect my life at Princeton. It is safe to say that the administration succeeds in downplaying the relevance of fraternities to prospective students.
During freshman week, every night it felt like the whole campus convened on the Street at Cloister and Colonial. The social scene felt anything but exclusive—I found myself talking to both freshman in my Zee group and senior heavyweight rowers encouraging me to walk on. This atmosphere lasted through Lawn Parties, when freshman were given open access to every eating club. The social relevance of the Greek system and passes to bicker clubs seemed insignificant. Days later, I found myself standing in a queue outside an eating club, watching people I recognized stride through confidently, show their colored scrap of card, embossed with the logo of the club, and pass through its doors. I asked some of these people if they could get me in—they all promised that they would try, but, unsurprisingly, nothing came to fruition. This was the first time that I realized that some of the rumors about exclusivity within the social system at Princeton were true. For freshmen who want to go to certain clubs, the pass system is inevitably important.
Older students in the Greek system have told me how it was much easier for them to go wherever they wanted on their nights out and that they feel sorry for us for not having access to the same opportunities. As a freshman, the concept of a more open social system is alien to me. Even those who are not involved in Greek life have said that sometimes this system benefited them too, as their friends in frats and sororities knew older members of eating clubs and so would help them out. No rush has meant that the freshman class was not cliquey because of Greek life from the start—there are not small groups of students who only socialize within their fraternities or sororities. I was fortunate enough to meet a large group of friendly and fun people on International Orientation and have remained close with these people since then. Several people have told me that this group is perceived as cliquey and hard to approach. In truth, I, along with my friends, were shocked to hear this; we often complain to each other that we do not know enough other freshmen and older students. I feel that the ban on freshman rush has made my group of friends, many of whom share similar backgrounds and interests, seem more insular. Since there seems to be no easy way to meet older students in a social context, something that rush could have provided to those interested, we are content to have each other as an important component of our social group and find that the easiest upperclassmen to meet can be fellow internationals. Likewise, students with older friends whom they knew before coming to Princeton, relationships that exist because of similar backgrounds, also have an advantage. More than ever, these freshmen will develop stronger relationships with these similar, older students and their social groups. So, it seems that the sort of social exclusivity that the decision to ban freshman rush sought to stymy is occurring anyway—the only difference is that it is no longer institutionalized.
I think that club sports have certainly benefited from the rush ban. Amongst my peers, joining a club team is very popular. The interest in sport itself is of course important, but club sports are also organizations that can function in the same ways as fraternities. They provide a close group that also throw parties and have pre-games. Friends of mine have told me that they have joined certain teams because they know doing so is a good way to meet people in the frats and eating clubs that they hope to join—socially self-selective behavior. Further, students are less likely to experience all the different eating clubs if they already have good access to one. Members of club rugby or lacrosse might have a good access to TI from the off and so it is relatively so much easier for them to gain access to this club. Consequently, there is less of an incentive to fully explore the Princeton social scene.
Finding a pass is often an awkward experience. If my friend group is planning on going to a particular bicker club one night, naturally I want to be with them. In general, most of my friends know one or two members of certain eating clubs and so rely on them. The first couple of times, I did not feel too awkward or clingy. After a while, I became worried that these older students, who I do genuinely like, respect and get on with, might just see me as an annoying, social climbing freshman. If I look at my text conversations with a couple of people, I cringe at the fact that the majority of the exchanges relate to passes and if they would mind giving me one. I am always conscious to word these texts in an inoffensive way to pretend that I do not really care what the reply is, even if I do really want to go to a particularly fun sounding party. Because of the self-consciousness that this develops, it feels particularly abusive of a friendship to ask for a pass for one of your friends as well.
Consequently, some people who do not have people from their high school or members of teams or other student groups are left feeling particularly desperate and helpless. Although the majority of times that I or my friends ask for a pass the member is more than happy to give them one, it is still hard to feel completely comfortable doing this frequently. I feel like in my friendship with this person, I am just taking from them and am helpless to help them in an equivalent way—this should not be a how a friendship works. If freshman could rush, for those involved, these awkward social encounters would not occur. However, in the grand scheme of things, if I am truly friends with someone whom I ask for passes, I hope that these awkward exchanges will become an irrelevant consequence of the freshman Greek ban.
Of course, there is no necessity to have passes in the first place. The non-pass eating clubs are really fun and there are enough of them that you would not have to always be going to the same place. However, as soon as other freshman start going to pass clubs and talking about how fun or ‘chill’ they are, inevitably the prospect of a new place with new people is exciting. In the first half semester of Princeton, I was swept away by all the new opportunities. Perhaps in the back of my mind I felt the need to go to as many places as soon as possible to really get a sense of what social life is like on campus. Yet when I came back from fall break, I realized that I’d spent six weeks at Princeton and I was fortunate enough to have three and half more years. These exciting new places are not going away, so there is no good reason to get stressed about things like eating club passes. The fear of missing out that I sometimes felt in the first few weeks lessened.
The freshman social scene this year feels like the standard Princeton experience. The pass system can be restrictive if you want to go out with a large group of friends, but older students are for the most part friendly and generous and keen to meet freshman. I just sometimes feel that although I am lucky to know some upperclassmen through my high school, being an international student and through extracurricular activities like writing for The Nassau Weekly, I wish I at least had the chance to meet more. Some of the social exclusivity that the University Administration claimed Greek life may have gone, but in its place, it is clear that alternatives have developed. At this stage, I think that students who are not on a team and who do not know many older Princetonians are looking forward to having the chance to join a fraternity or sorority next year. For many, the main attraction will be the chance to develop close friendships with older students.
In her essay ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’, former Yale student Marina Keegan writes about how college life ‘is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves’, making us feel this sensation of ‘the opposite of loneliness’. This essay expresses much of how I feel and like Keegan, I think that my desire to be part of something and have an established social grounding as I begin college is a natural feeling. I am sure members of the Greek system would argue that their fraternities and sororities provided them with this. A ban on Greek life for freshman will not change the fact that many people feel similar to me and so it is unsurprising that social grouping, be it through a club sports team or an international background, occurs. Inevitably, some of this is exclusive, or at least perceived in that way, and is centered around behavior that does ‘not add in positive ways to the overall residential experience on the campus and often place excessive emphasis on alcohol’ (this is taken from Rights, Rules and Responsibilities and describes why Princeton does not recognize Greek life). I do not think that the abolition of freshman rush has stopped the type social grouping that the decision targeted. Greek institutions are structured around common social desires of college students and a freshman ban merely postpones the manifestation of these desires in institutionalized form. So, I would conclude that the freshman social experience is probably not that different without Greek life. It might just be harder both for older students and for us to realize this because of the restrictions of some social interactions between classes.