Monday, February 9, 2009

A Dilemma of Dining Decisions

Since it was published on Friday morning, Tasnim Shamma’s article “Insufficient aid deters sophomores from joining clubs” has attracted significant attention, receiving over 25 comments and topping the most-viewed and -commented articles lists for the ‘Prince.’ The article details the financial, and arguably socioeconomic, dimensions of decisions made by several juniors and sophomores to join eating clubs, join co-ops, join a four-year residential college or go independent. Essentially, many students are deterred from joining eating clubs by the clubs’ various fees – food, social, alcohol – and because, while the University’s financial aid partly covers the board component of juniors’ eating club expenses (currently, juniors and seniors on financial aid receive a board allowance equal to the average cost of an eating-club membership), students pay sophomore membership fees or social fees out of their own pockets. As a result, for some students joining an eating club “entails a lot of self-sacrifice and perhaps working more hours,” according to Qin Zhi Lau ’11.

In the comments section of the article, “TChen ’09” maintains that even “playing the aid-catchup game” would not eliminate the segregation of eating clubs, Spelman rooms and co-ops by “academic interest, racial and even geographic backgrounds,” and notes that many international students and students who are on full financial aid “would rather pocket the $2000” than pay eating club expenses. TChen also distinguishes sign-in eating clubs from bicker clubs, arguing that the latter’s Bicker “process force[s] bickerees to consider carefully what they want out of a Princeton social experience.” The poster adds that though some students find Bicker “confusing” or “unpleasant,” the selection process usually makes bicker clubs “ more cohesive and less segregated” than sign-in clubs and “provide[s] unparalleled ‘bonding experience[s]’ ” that cannot easily be achieved in four-year residential colleges, sign-in clubs or Spelman. By contrast, TChen argues that sign-in clubs “for many [are] a backup resort or because [those students] haven't thought about where they really want to be,” as evidenced by the high turnover rate in sign-in clubs. Furthermore, students on shared meal plans at sign-in clubs “don't really know what they want” but “don't want to miss out on this unique Princeton experience [of being in eating clubs] even though it's much more convenient/cheaper” to join four-year colleges.

Citing his own experience at Charter Club, “JTaggart ’09” refutes TChen’s contention that there is more social segregation in sign-in clubs than in bicker clubs, where one could argue that the Bicker process “can split up friends and create rivalries over control of the club, and who gets in.” JTaggart also maintains that TChen’s claim that some students go to sign-in clubs “by default” can be similarly applied to members of sports teams, fraternities and sororities that are affiliated with particular eating clubs.

Other comment authors do not distinguish between sign-in and bicker eating clubs in outlining the financial considerations associated with clubs. For instance, “Alum ’08” raises the question of whether it is responsible for students on financial to ask their parents to pay an extra $2,000 to $4,000 so they can join eating clubs if their families are “already struggling to get by paying for their kid's college education while saving up money for the next child's.” He also argues that the inability of some students’ families to pay the cost difference results in racial and socioeconomic segregation between the students who can afford eating clubs and those who cannot. Another complicating factor, “Alum ’06” says, is that with the expansion of upper-class dining alternatives, students can no longer make as cogent a case to their parents that they need to be in eating clubs and that their parents should therefore pay the clubs’ extra costs, even if these expenses would require “not … a little sacrifice.” In addition, “Observer” argues that the “stereotypical elitist reputation associated with the ‘eating clubs’ ” deters potential applicants and admitted students from applying to or attending Princeton. “’11” and “re: Bob Dog” note that not all the clubs publicize their costs.

“Teacher ’08” notes that each student must make a decision for himself regarding how much he values joining a club compared with how much he values one of the other upperclass dining options or the money he would save by not joining a club. Regular comment contributor “Crusty Alum” says he does not regret joining an eating club, adding that he personally found the extra loan debt he incurred from joining an eating club “to have been worthwhile.” While he notes that “as all things in life, [incurring such debt is] a choice and a sacrifice,” he does mention he wishes the University would “cover the last small difference” between total eating club fees and financial aid allowances. Re: Bob Dog also notes “the cost of being in a club is more than worth it,” and directs those who would find covering the cost of an eating club to speak with the financial aid office. Yet even increasing the financial aid package will not eliminate the cost gap between eating club fees and dining halls, co-ops or independent life, according to “Brown Senior.”
Finally, “’09” points out the inconsistency between club social fees not being covered by financial aid but social events at four-year residential colleges being covered by tuition, noting that the colleges are no less selective than sign-in clubs.

Have something to say about this topic? Please feel free to add to the comments section.

-Kelly Lack '10, Associate Editor for Research