Archibald’s Temptation: A Criticism of Elitism

On Monday, February 6, The Daily Princetonian featured an article in its opinion section that chastised the Bicker system and featured a link to Club Revolución, the club that opposes it. After reading the column, I did not think much about the topic. Anti-bicker groups have existed in Princeton for many years, though they have not been visibly active since I arrived. They were nothing new in the school’s history. Various groups had tried unsuccessfully to end this practice.

I checked my e-mail account on Tuesday morning and found a mysterious note that advertised admissions to, “Princeton’s newest, coolest, and most exclusive club” called “St. Archibald’s League.” There was a link to the club’s website. When I first looked through it, I was in disbelief. It sounded so realistic that it seemed untrue; much of their activities seemed like a compilation of the eating clubs’ reputations. As I read through more of their material, I smelled a rat. Their address of “5 Prospect Avenue” is Campus Club — the once mighty eating club that was bought by the University after going bankrupt — and their contact e-mail address was connected to Club Revolución’s website. Still, I decided to go to their “admissions” event that evening.

Fog blanketed Princeton like a mask as I hurried to Prospect Avenue. Upon arrival at Campus Club, two protesters stood on the sidewalk shouting, “Be inclusive! Do not let them fool you into thinking you are not worthy!” and, “Do not create power structures where none are needed.” A student in a suit guarded the opening through the hedge next to a sign reading “Bicker St. Archibald’s.” About fifteen students gathered around as he told us to wait until the previous group was complete. I recognized him from PCCCV and as the author of the article in the “Prince.” The protesters then handed us a “flyer” about the cruelty involved in the making of Canada Goose parkas. A few “hosed” students — the name for those who are rejected after bickering — walked out of Campus Club. Once they left, we were lead in by a lean short-haired man with narrow eyes who wore a Canada Goose Parka.

We were informed that we were to only answer the questions given to us. Our responses were to be witty but not “show offy” or “obsequious.” We were also informed that our membership or rejection to this club would determine our careers and friends for life.

Inside, we were split into groups of three to answer questions from “club members.” The questions seemed simple but our answers were met by our interrogator’s judgmental silence. Her only role was to complete a form. Questions included:

  • What is your last name?
  • Where are you from?
  • Where did you go to high school?
  • Why do you want to join this club?
  • Based on my (the interviewer’s) appearance, how many people do you think I’ve hooked up with?
  • Rank the other twelve eating clubs (there are only eleven) from best to worst. Which is the weirdest? Which is the coolest?
  • How racially diverse are your friends?
  • Who in the group do you think has the richest family?
  • What’s great about this eating club and what’s wrong about it?
  • If you had three wishes, what would they be?
  • Are you related to anyone famous?

(From what I can gather from external sources, all of these questions were taken from actual Bicker interviews.)

After completing the questions, the interviewers left the room and then returned to say that we were all admitted. The group was subsequently seated around a large table in the dining room. The club’s “president” handed everyone an envelope, saying that it contained our passbook to club events. I opened it and found a note that defined the word, “elite” along with a card for Club Revolución. At that moment, the club members started banging the table and chanting, if I remember correctly, “we need a new system because we are always right.” They were referring to the need for inclusivity. That ended the evening’s show.

Everything about St. Archibald’s stint was a parody of every eating club ever, from its invitation to the realistically fake Bicker. It could easily be a Saturday Night Live imitation of Princeton. Club Revolución showed that unwarranted elitism continues to pervade social life here and has taken a bold approach to address it through satire. While the diversification of the student body has led to a decline in the strength of certain once powerful organizations, the power structures themselves are still intact.

Bicker and the eating clubs will never go away. There are too many alumni and too much money involved for that to ever happen. But Club Revolución did highlight ways in which students can take action to diminish the strength of eating clubs in a manner unlike that of previous anti-Bicker groups.

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