In an attempt to change student opinions about bicker, Kyle Berlin ‘18 helped organize a protest during bicker week. On February 7, he led a fake bicker at Campus Club for the fictitious St. Archibald’s League.
“We’re an elite group of students (club members are known as Archis) who comprise Princeton’s newest and most exclusive eating club,” says a website that was set up for St. Archibald’s League. “We are extremely cosmopolitan in composition and refined in practice.”
At the fake bicker, which was sometimes billed as “performance art,” the organizers at the event asked students in Campus Club stereotypical bicker questions of a stuffy eating club.
“Of the people in the group with you, who do you think has the most money?,” read one question. Another asked, “If you had to judge me based on my appearance, how many people do you think I’ve hooked up with?”
When I first saw the website, the day before the fake bicker, I thought St. Archibald’s League was supposed to make fun of St. A’s, which is explicitly referenced on the site, and Ivy Club. The site presents the caricature of a pretentious eating club.
“In order to assure you fit in, we will ask you to talk with us in a series of contrived social exercises,” the website says. “Make sure to be flattering but not obsequious.”
The Daily Princetonian said that a reference to meals prepared by “authentic immigrants” on the website was a joke about Ivy. A former employee of Ivy was deported recently.
“I didn’t intend to call out any specific club,” Berlin said. “Yes, I was poking fun at St. A’s and at Ivy, but it wasn’t about calling those specific clubs out. It was about calling out exclusivity in general at Princeton.”
A few more events will be held this semester under the banner of St. Archibald’s League, Berlin said; however, no firm plans had been made when we spoke, in mid-February. The website for Club Revolucion, a farcical organization created in tandem with St. Archibald’s League, has been taken down.
As an additional act of protest, Berlin and Aamir Zainulabadeen ‘18 said that they interrupted bicker discussions at multiple eating clubs on February 8.
“A couple of us, two nights ago, disrupted bicker discussions at Cottage and at Cap and gave a thirty second speech,” Berlin said. “We said ‘as you’re discussing these people, discuss also the possibility of ending bicker.’”
The presidents of Cottage and Cap did not respond to a request for confirmation that their bicker discussions were ever interrupted.
The next night, Berlin delivered a cheese plate to Tower Club. He said it was a “gesture of goodwill, from one neighbor to another,” since St. Archibald’s League has claimed Campus Club as its headquarters, next door to Tower.
The president of Tower Club, Chris Jagoe ‘18, wrote in an email “I am not aware of any cheese plate sent to Tower, so I can neither confirm nor deny that claim.”
Berlin said that the eating clubs and the bicker process that six of them use to determine admissions are too exclusive and are not compatible with the ideals of diversity and inclusion that the University promulgates.
“In an ideal Princeton, I think that the eating clubs would cease to exist, and we would eat together in a community,” Berlin, who is an RCA and eats in the residential colleges, said. “All the eating clubs are, to a degree, exclusive, even if they’re sign-in.”
Berlin said that the cost of even a sign-in club, which is almost always at least two or three thousand dollars higher than a standard University meal plan, prohibits some students from joining clubs.
In his “utopian vision” of eating and socializing at Princeton, students would eat in groups that would resemble larger versions of today’s co-ops.
Ideally, the groups would be large enough to prevent high-school style cliques, Berlin said, adding that the clubs currently do a good job of preventing cliques.
“What the eating clubs do well is causing people to talk to people who they might not otherwise talk to, and that’s what the residential colleges don’t always do,” Berlin said. “You’re in a group that’s larger than your immediate friend group, but small enough that you’re forced to interact with people who don’t necessarily think the same as you.”
Berlin recognizes that there are significant roadblocks to closing the century-old eating clubs. Right now, the University does not have the capacity to feed the third of the student body that dines on Prospect Avenue.
An interim solution would be to replace the selective bicker admissions process used at six of the clubs with a lottery system, which would be more fair, Berlin said.
“There’s a delusion that selection of people can ever be just,” Berlin said. “I don’t think that peers can judge peers on a couple of interviews or how they look.”
Since their inception, many of the Prospect Avenue clubs have cultivated what the Interclub Council’s website calls each club’s “unique character.” In his novel This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald called Ivy Club “breathlessly aristocratic” and Tiger Inn “broad shouldered and athletic.” Although the clubs have certainly changed and diversified since then, these century-old labels still ring true, to a certain extent.
Berlin said that moving to a lottery system would not destroy the clubs’ personalities.
“I think the stereotypes, to a degree, will still be there, but they will disintegrate a little bit and soften,” Berlin said. “I’m not going to suddenly sign in to Ivy, so they won’t have to deal with me.”