IvyGate’s roundup of today’s headlines in the Ivy dailies mentions the Daily Princetonian‘s above-the-fold piece about Meg Whitman’s bid for governor of California. This, indeed, is a rather silly article, very much in the mold of every Ivy League daily’s tendency to run a story every time some alumnus does something in order to fill space. To be fair, there is some decent Princeton-focused reporting in the article, but also a fair amount of cribbing from the WaPo and the Sacramento Bee.
But what I really wanted to mention is that IvyGate is overlooking the most incredible thing to come out of the Prince today—more incredible even than one eating club’s computer fuck-ups: a very odd column by opinion editor Barry Caro in defense of bicker.
Keep in mind that I hate bicker. It’s a disgusting institution that for several decades has been a stain on Princeton and a major detractor for a lot of folks who consider going here. So keep that bias in mind. Also keep in mind that Caro professes to be no fan of bicker himself—after all, he says, he joined a sign-in club. But statements like this still get to me: in response to other writers in the Prince who criticized bicker’s exclusivity and cliquishness, he writes, “I must have missed the all-Street meeting where club members are told that our mission is to mercilessly mock people.” Oh, so there has to be a meeting for something to be true? I’m not such a hardline radical that I don’t understand sarcasm, but cliquishness is kind of the entire point of eating clubs. Some people get in; some people don’t. That’s especially true for bicker clubs, where getting in is based not on a lottery, but on an evaluation of one’s personality and in some cases one’s appearance, one’s family background, and other such factors. This isn’t an overtly acknowledged factor, but even this freshman can see how folks posture and pretend and flip out about trying to act like the sort of person Club X would accept. It’s like the middle-school popular crowd all over again, but even worse—because now it’s 20-year-olds who really should know better.
Caro also says, “I’m also curious how Loh holds what I believe are two completely contradictory critiques of the eating clubs together in his head: that they both enforce conformity and are a reflection of social balkanization.” Clearly he hasn’t been around many young people’s social groups, because it’s perfectly obvious to me that when self-segregation according to stereotype occurs, there’s a certain amount of pressure to then live up perfectly to that stereotype. Think of the jocks, the drama kids, the rich and popular kids, all those groups from high school. And think about the social influences all those groups exert. Don’t you have to dress a certain way, hold a certain set of interests, profess a certain set of beliefs, in order not to get weird looks? I can’t believe that I’m the only kid who had that experience—and I know that, too, because I look around Princeton and see hundreds and hundreds of kids who are too scared or too unimaginative to break out of this heightened preppiness that the social environment at this university engenders. Even I’ve felt it—I came home at Christmas and bought some nicer clothes, so that I wouldn’t feel underdressed in class. I’m consciously trying to learn to modify my rhetoric so that it’s acceptable to the Princeton style of discourse. And I’m careful of the things I say so that I’m accepted, even if the groups from which I’m seeking acceptance are “alternative” crowds. It’s how the world works. Caro’s living in a fantasy land if he thinks that’s not what people do.
Caro concludes by saying that the eating clubs are what make Princeton special, and that if you don’t like it you should go elsewhere. Well, in a way that is a valid point, and many people have gone elsewhere. I almost did, and I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve talked to who didn’t apply to Princeton because they were so disconcerted by the Street. But personally, I don’t see a huge problem with making eating clubs an accessible option to everyone, regardless of financial ability or gender or social status or anything else. I think it’s deeply troubling to have it publicly acknowledged that exclusive elitism is at the center of Princeton’s social scene. And I’m angered and disgusted by folks who are so disinterested in making this university a place where anyone could want to go to benefit from the world-class academics. I really don’t think fulfilling President Tilghman’s green-hair line is too much to ask.
The Prince wrote me an email today, inviting me to come to their open house this week. I told them I wasn’t interested, and after reading this column (and the full-page ad from the Cato Institute on the facing page), I’m even more sure of that. I, after all, proudly write for the Nassau Weekly. It may be its own self-selecting social scene, but at least we publish coherent and intelligent articles that aren’t predicated on upholding everything that is wrong and outdated and elitist and exclusionary about Princeton’s social environment.