Column | Feb. 6

On constructive criticism

By Jason Adleberg

From the late-night U-Store shopping sprees to the angry Princetonian op-eds, it seems to be that time of year again: Bicker is clearly on our minds, and it seems to have been for a while. Search results for “Bicker” on the Daily Princetonian website show 12 op-ed pieces published within the last year directly grappling with the subject — many seem to consistently pop up during the month of February. Two articles this week, by Uchechi Kalu ’14 and Zach Ogle ’15 particularly caught my attention not only for their content but also for the relatively large amount of comments both received. Underneath their opposing arguments, though, lies a familiar thread that frustratingly seems to unite all of the 12 articles: not a single one of these articles proposes action steps towards fixing our seemingly collective woe over bicker.

For a campus of supposed “leaders,” I believe that we are suspiciously inactive when it comes to solving the Princeton-specific problems we complain about over internet forums and late-night conversations. I don’t think it takes much effort to diagnose that the Bicker process makes a handful of students deeply unhappy. But as a second-semester senior, I’ve yet to hear anyone make a serious proposal towards a remedy for our supposedly imperfect system. Though I’m sure that some students have thought about it, there doesn’t seem to be a framework to distribute these thoughts past our more immediate ten-page essays and problem sets.

In fact, I would posit that complaining about things on campus is something of an art form, a uniquely Princetonian performance: an assumption of the forms of seriousness and virtue, of constructiveness and righteousness while altogether lacking the initiative to actually get anything done. Occasionally an article appears criticizing Bicker, or the Greek ban or the bonfire effigies, but rarely do a bunch of students come together towards working out a solution. And why should we? Apathy is cool at Princeton because we understand that “leadership” is simply an interview question that can be twisted and molded, unlike a GPA or standardized test that we can’t embellish.

I would like to here (very) briefly propose a number of action steps in which we could attempt to better the Bicker process, since it seems certain it is not a perfect process. And though I doubt that the imperfections are totally perfectible, who better than Princeton students to work on an unsolvable problem? Hopefully, such an approach could catalyze the development of a framework within which students can attempt to fix various problems on campus. At worst, such an approach could at least lead to more conversations over dining hall tables.

Problem: Bicker promotes a culture of exclusivity.

I think that the Bicker process is not so much a cause of exclusivity as much as a symptom; students will probably always find ways to form cliquish groups. There are certainly benefits to tight-knit, “exclusive”, friend groups as well, and the development of political skills is certainly crucial for navigating certain arenas after graduation (like… politics). The notion of exclusivity is such a hard problem to solve because it’s desirable for some and abhorrent for others.

But here’s a thought experiment: let’s imagine that passes and lists are completely gone, and that parties are open always to anyone with a prox. What would happen here? Certainly the Street would be a bit irregular for a few weeks, but over time I bet that the demographics of parties would remain exactly the same. Tackling the intricacies of “exclusivity” is probably way beyond the space allotted for this article, but I suppose it would be constructive to debate what would happen under the conditions suggested above. Having certain nights in which all clubs were unconditionally open would certainly reduce angst over “exclusivity.”

Problem: Getting hosed hurts people’s feelings.

I think this is sort of two separate issues: (1) the necessity of some students getting hosed, and (2) some having hurt feelings about it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that there is much to be done about the former, as eating clubs have limited capacities to serve food to their members.

However, the latter issue could likely be improved if: (1) those not “hosed” were genuinely empathetic towards those who were, not for the duration of a text message but rather a longer amount of time, (2) the social chairs of each bicker club sent heartfelt, multi-paragraph messages to all those not accepted, (3) room draw for sophomores was held before Bicker.

The painful element of surprise could also possibly be mitigated if students were aware of their standings throughout the process. For some, Bicker is like taking a pass/D/fail without any mid-term progress reports or feedback on exams.

Though the suggestions are brief, hopefully this manner of approaching the subject is more constructive than arguing over whether Bicker is wholly good or bad. Does anyone believe Bicker is a perfect system? Clearly not. Does anyone believe that as students we actually have the power to change the system? I’d like to suggest that we do.

Jason Adleberg is a Civil & Environmental Engineering major from Owings Mills, Maryland. He is a member of Terrace Club. He can be reached at



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