I remember driving down Prospect Avenue with a group of Princeton students in my freshman year, with a group composed of both freshmen and upperclassmen. We were all in the same extracurricular club; as we drove down, we pointed out the clubs.
“That’s Quad, right?” one of the freshmen asked.
“Yeah,” the upperclassman said. “It’s filled with weirdos. Don’t join Quad — we’d kick you out of the club if you did.”
For most of the year and a half that I have been at Princeton, Quad has been a bit of a ‘strange’ club. Perhaps this is because it tends to attract a higher proportion of students who don’t drink and hookup. Perhaps it is because it hasn’t really had a set identity as a club. Perhaps it is because it has, historically, drawn a smaller number of members.
Whatever the reason, Quad last year attracted only 26 students during first-round sign-in. This year, it attracted 97 members during the first round of sign-ins; after second-round sign-ins, Quad had 115 members, making it the most popular sign-in club after Terrace.
“Two years ago, people would have said, ‘oh Quad’s full of weird people,’” said one Quad officer, describing the sterotypes to me. “Last year they would have said, ‘oh I really don’t know.’” If eating clubs were defined by high school clichés, Quad this year would be that dorky kid who went away over the summer and came back confident and cool, but still incredibly nice. Quad has, in many ways, has always been subversive with regards to mainstream Street culture. This year, however, Quad tapped into that reputation to draw an unprecedented number of sophomores to the club.
Broderic Bender is a “Moosehead,” a loosely defined Quad officer position that is a cross between drinks chair and entertainment chair. He greeted me warmly, as if we were good friends and not strangers meeting for the first time. He spoke frankly and with warmth, describing to me what he thought Quad had done right this year. If he was, at times, cautious — as many interviewees are — it was in a careful, sheepish way, as if he felt bad about not fully trusting me.
Broderic put much of the credit down to a strong recruitment strategy and social calendar. “We didn’t throw an open party the entire second half of this semester,” he said. “But that was because every weekend, we had something to do with sophomores.” Between food fights, laser tag parties and spy knife Nerf fights, sophomores considering Quad had their pick of creative, well-organized events.
Sophomores were encouraged to treat the club as if it were fully their own. If they didn’t like parties, they were welcome to go upstairs to play board games or videogames or chill. One Quad officer called this “parties the Quad way”: parties that are about planning and creativity, that disassociate ‘having fun’ with ‘binge-drinking and hooking up.’
Quad benefited, too, from a partnership with The Alternative, a relatively new addition to Princeton’s social scene. The Alternative was formerly headed by Erik Massenzio, who is now one-half of Quad’s social chair; it is now headed by Paul Draper. While The Alternative has acquired a reputation of being anti-drinking, both Erik and Paul assured me that the Alternative was not against the idea of drinking, but against binge-drinking and the idea that drinking is required to have fun.
“How did Quad elect #thealternative guy to be social chair?” asked one Yak, mocking Quad and The Alternative simultaneously. If you buy the premise that it is possible to have fun without drinking, however, it makes perfect sense that Quad would elect the leader of The Alternative to be social chair. Anti-drinking or not, The Alternative had a very successful first semester. “We had our first party first week of school. We had two more parties, each wildly popular,” Erik told me.
One of those events was The Alternative Christmas Holiday Party, an event that saw Theta members drinking eggnog and hot chocolate alongside debate team members. The other was a wildly popular event involving Olive Garden breadsticks. “We ordered — I always brag about this — we ordered 720 breadsticks,” Erik said. “700 were consumed.”
The Alternative events, however, opened up the club to a greater number of people than in previous years, and to people who enjoy a different type of party: to the people, in other words, that would most enjoy Quad’s parties. “A lot of the drinking at Quad is less about getting shit-faced,” one sophomore said, “and more about enjoying the drinks.” “There’s just this geeky, friendly atmosphere… really chill parties that were more my style,” another sophomore said to me. Both of them are now members of Quad.
And if Quad is known for being ‘boring’ as a result, it’s the natural, and not entirely bad, result of hosting these sorts of low-key but creative parties. As one member said, “You’re not going to go to laser tag night and try to hook up with someone.”
Yekaterina Panskyy ’17, the President of Quad, met me in Campus Club, which she jokingly called ‘neutral ground.’ Talking to her, I felt a certain gravitas and somberness, as if she carefully weighed every word that she spoke. Yet I also felt that she respected me, that she was paying close attention to every word I spoke.
As we talked, she described meetings she had sat in on as a sophomore officer last year.“ We thought about, ‘What could have gone better?’ We started thinking about the image [of Quad] back then,” she said. “We went through this shift that was very, very integral in getting a lot of sophomores in.”
Partnering with the Alternative, and designing a much more involved social calendar was part of that. Another large part of the increase, however, was being inclusive, non-judgemental and nice.
“A lot of sophomores, when they came to Quad, would sit at a table and wait for people to come to them,” Katie said. “I think the officers were very, very good at seeing which sophomores felt a little uncomfortable, not sure of the atmosphere, not sure of who was exactly there, and would just extend a helping hand. They would ask, ‘Are you okay? Can I get you anything? How’s your day going?’”
Like Katie, Broderic also described excitement about meeting sophomores. “You meet [sophomores] as you’re trying to get them to join your club,” Broderic elaborated. “But at the same time, you’re trying more than to get them to join your club. You’re trying to actually be somebody who they want to hang out with. It’s less about ‘is the soph right for us’, and more ‘are we right for the soph?’”
Quad’s officers also actively targeted friend groups. “You can’t just go for individual people, right? Especially if we’re trying to build a sense of community,” Erik said, pointing out the natural reasoning for targeting friend groups.
Jillian Silbert, a sophomore who signed into Quad this year, attested to the power of this strategy. Her freshman roommate brought her along to Quad, where Jillian met the officers; as her enthusiasm for the club grew, she brought along more and more of her friends. “In the end, it was like, ‘We’re all considering Quad. Why don’t we all do it and all just join Quad?’” she said.
“When someone wanted to join the club,” Katie said. “We were like, great, we’re really glad that you’re happy, but are your friends happy?” Do they want to join? Do you think, maybe, they would be interested in following you, just in case, so you never feel lonely?”
Last year’s “Hose Bicker” campaign focused on how bicker separates friend groups; how the bicker clubs pick and choose the members who best ‘suit’ the cultures of their clubs. In contrast to this, Quad welcomes sophomores and their friends into the club; as one sophomore member said to me, ‘there’s always room at a Quad table.’ It appeals to sophomores who join not only so they can meet other, like-minded people, but also so they can stay with their friends rather than risk being separated from them.
With its low-key partying style and recruitment strategy, Quad will continue to appeal to the people who want something a little subversive, a little bit off-Street. “We’re not kid-friendly, but we’re not ragers,” Katie said, when I asked her what she thought the perception of Quad today was. “We’re somewhere in the middle. A little bit risky, a little bit classy. The ‘quintessential Princetonian.’”
Quad seems to be more a club for anybody who chooses it. Last year, it lacked an identity; in many ways, it still lacks one today. One thing, however, is for certain. With the large number of sophomore sign-ins, “these guys can really take Quad in whichever direction they choose,” Broderic said. In any other club, this would be disastrous; at Quad, however, it is what makes the club Quad.