Column | Feb. 19

What would Aretha Franklin do?

“Last night, she said:
‘Oh, baby, I feel so down.
Oh it turns me off,
When I feel left out.’ ” 
- The Strokes

Last Saturday night: upstairs, in the bathroom stall of my own eating club. I hear a member of another club. Mine is called “alright.” But hers, in hers they “handpick the best members of every race.” I am aghast.

Did I hear wrong? Did I mistake playfulness for pride? Others confirm the story though. They have heard the same sentiment touted at different times, in different locations. I didn’t even have to finish the story before a friend told me she knew exactly how it ended.

I’ve never heard anything like that before. Stories, yes. But I’ve never heard such explicit and completely unabashed social engineering, not to this level. Perhaps I have taken the quotation out of context. Then again, I can’t imagine in which context it belongs.

Two and a half years ago: reading “This Side of Paradise.” How cliché. I can’t say I generally like Fitzgerald’s characters. There is one chapter though, “Narcissus Off Duty,” in which a number of his fictitious junior Princetonians are considering leaving their clubs, banding together in protest. It’s an interesting thought.

Fitzgerald calls eating clubs “an orgy of sociability.” I wonder if he is being hypocritical with that tone. I then wonder, just on a whim, if our sophomores or juniors would ever band together and protest the club system. I doubt it; they have no Burne Holiday. And he wasn’t even that great.

Earlier this month: Bicker season. Everyone is complaining. Girls are standing around in the bathroom discussing other people as I brush my teeth. I don’t necessarily mind at this point, but many find it incessant.

“They all hate it,” someone claims later at lunch. “But they’re too chicken to do anything about it, to stop doing it.” I don’t completely agree. I doubt that most of them truly hate it, and I think that, for most of the year, the rest of us don’t think about it all too much. At least, nobody ever does anything about it. It’s just for some of us, and it’s not for others. The trouble is that you don’t necessarily know which one you are, and you’re too scared to go it alone for a little while. That’s a real shame.

Two years ago: full disclosure to the reader — hosed. Ouch.

One year and eleven months ago: it doesn’t take too long for things to seem right back where they belong. We are rather resilient. We can find a place if we are open to being in some place unexpected.

Two weekends ago, i.e. post-Bicker: out on the Street. People pull out their phones and read a text or email. Many of them cry. They’re out and they’re crying. What a visceral and public display of emotion that can’t be helped. This could have probably been handled differently.

Whether the system stays or goes, continues unperturbed or changes, I don’t know. I do know that I have enjoyed my two years as a member of an eating club. The only thing for which I think we are all (to varying degrees) culpable is a lack of respect.

Respect for other clubs and their members and their houses. Respect for bickerees. Respect for the person who gets hosed. You have to really mean it though. Just because we are divided by clubs, by membership and non-membership, doesn’t mean we should be divided.

Through this perspective of mine you’ve just read, I come to one last thought that maybe people say but don’t mean enough: Don’t be afraid of things not working out at first. Have the courage to do something different from your friends if you know it’s what you really want. It will be alright. Don’t waste any of your time.

Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at kmshah@princeton.edu.

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