Column | Feb. 5

A defense of Bicker

By Zach Ogle

The Bicker system isn’t perfect. Sophomores know it. People who are hosed know it. The vocal minority that loudly proclaims its hatred for the process certainly knows it. But every single member of every single bicker club knows it too. Believe it or not, bicker club members do not sit around looking for people to hose, making snap judgments about who is or isn’t fit for entry. Every year, rather, there are members who are saddened by the ranks of great people who are missed by the system and left out.

Bicker does exclude, there is no denying it. But before we decry exclusion as inherently evil, we should examine why this exclusion exists. Bicker’s exclusion is based in hard realties. Eating club kitchens can only turn out so many meals. Club facilities can only hold so many members. If next semester the 400 or so people who bickered Cap & Gown Club this year and last were all accepted (assuming the numbers from last spring remain constant this spring), the club would have to serve over 400 meals at every sitting. This is simply impossible. Even if it weren’t, a key benefit of the club system — breaking the University into manageable and meaningful chunks — would be lost. Some form of exclusion, then, is necessary for clubs where potential members outnumber available spots.

Bicker is indeed exclusionary, but this exclusion is a systemic necessity. The next step is to make sure we rely on a system that excludes in an acceptable way. Even here, Bicker isn’t perfect — ask the ranks of members who know people who they wish had been accepted. But lack of perfection does not make the system “brutish” or even “painfully corrupt,” as Uchechi Kalu argued in her Feb. 3 column. Few people relish the thought of rejecting bickerees. Success at Bicker does not depend on the name of your prep school, nor does it depend upon one’s race, gender or sexual orientation. Though some clubs are undeniably more homogeneous than others, this lack of diversity is a result of affiliation rather than any sort of active discrimination.

In reality, success at Bicker depends on personality, friendships and extracurricular affiliation. Being friends or teammates with club members obviously matters, but not for any intrinsic value. Associations only matter because they influence the amount of interaction a bickeree will have had with members of the club, and thus how well members know them. Some may label this unfair, as denying a certain population a “fair shot at success.” But it certainly makes sense to allow club members to select from their current friend group when deciding with whom to build a larger circle of friends.

Again, this system isn’t perfect. Without associations, success at Bicker depends too much on sociability in a contrived environment. People who would fit in well at a given club are hosed every year simply because their personalities do not come through in the stressful process that is Bicker. And that’s sad. But even if it’s not 100 percent successful, a system that seeks to judge based on personality and friendships makes sense. Yet somehow stereotypes pulled from a bygone era — when race and socioeconomic status were primary drivers in the social scene — still pervade. There is room to improve Bicker, but members of bicker clubs need not “soothe their psyches” because their kitchens can serve a limited number of meals. They simply need to work to make the process transparent and interactive so that each bickeree has the chance to show off who he really is.

Even worse, the sweeping generalizations, bombastic tones and self-righteous sermonizing of Bicker’s detractors make for pretty reading but obscure the source of social pain rather than address it. The head hanging and “social shame” that classmates who are hosed endure has much more to do with the general campus culture than with the Bicker process itself. When it comes to bettering the culture on campus, we should treat the root of the problem instead of merely complaining about the symptoms. There are a number of ways that we can improve Princeton’s campus culture. We could stop deriving self-worth from our social groupings. We could stop applying our inherent competitive nature to socializing. We could let down our guard, stop pretending to be perfect and be more supportive. Changing Bicker or destroying the clubs won’t really change much, but treating the problem at the source will.

Zach Ogle is a Wilson School major from San Antonio, Texas. He is a member of Cannon Dial Elm Club. He can be reached at zogle@princeton.edu. 

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