The Princeton eating club system is one of the hallmarks of the Princeton experience, and the Bicker process is one of its most time-honored traditions. Each spring, a new class of Princetonians competes to join their chosen club by meeting members and putting on their best face.
This Bicker process is not without its ups and downs; at the end of the week, some prospective members are let in to their club of choice and others are left behind. This has led many to argue that the Bicker process should be abandoned. It leaves too many unhappy they say, creating unnecessary exclusion when the self-selection model used by the sign-in clubs is just as effective in creating cohesive social groups.
We must reject this misguided attitude like a hosed bickeree. The unity achieved by a Bicker club is only possible when members know they had to fight tooth and nail for their spot. Modern America is far too willing to give out trophies just for showing up – we should get into our social groups the same way we got into Princeton, through competition on a level playing field.
In short, it is time for Princeton to recognize the success of the Bicker model in creating diverse, cohesive communities. We need more Bicker, not less.
Consider the residential college system. Freshman arrive on campus and are immediately shepherded into a college and an advisee group which lets them meet other new students from different backgrounds with different interests on campus. These groups seem to work well – but can we trust students to bond with peers they have not had to fight to be accepted by? How will students know their place in the social hierarchy if they are not told? Most problematically, can we responsibly make new students join a residential college without having the opportunity to compete for better rooms, a better dining hall, or a better location on campus?
Let us envision a new residential college system – a Bicker residential college system. New students could spend frosh week getting to know each other and sophomores in their res college of choice the Princeton way: through fun Bicker games, interviews, and Survivor-esque eating competitions. Thoroughly bickered, each frosh would be picked up by a res college the weekend before classes start. We could divide students by building. Witherspoon would of course choose Freshman first. Forbes Annex would probably be a little further down the list. So it goes; some are first among equals.
Further borrowing from the Bicker club model, we could charge different rates for different places on campus. Slush fund not included. You get more when you pay more! This system would promote better friendships, a personalized outcome for each student, and a fun start to the year.
It is important not to put artificial limits on the potential uses for the Bicker system. Consider the process of selecting an academic department. We have all been frustrated to discover that our major includes people we find unsavory: mouth-breathers, people whose hair is more stylishly tousled than ours, that girl who always wears the same top as you. To combat this problem, we should adopt and expand the Bicker model pioneered by the Woodrow Wilson school for all departments. Or we could adopt a two-tiered model: Bicker ANT, sign-in to SOC.
The last major reform necessary is a re-bickering of the sign-in clubs. These eating clubs have decided to determine their membership on a first-come, first-served basis – or by rewarding prospective members who commit to attending the club regularly before sign-in season. People in these clubs seem to be reasonably happy. They bond through initiations, shared interests, joining with a group of friends, sharing of food, and scrappy can-do spirit. They must be saved from themselves. These idealists need to confront the truth: you don’t eat with your friends, where you eat is where your friends are; there can only be an in-group if there is an out-group; social competition is a better way to determine a person’s worth than a random draw; and who you know is more important than who you are.
Without Bicker, how will the sign-ins learn?