Princeton’s Plan To Discourage Exclusivity

In “This Side of Paradise,” F. Scott Fitzgerald called Princeton “lazy and aristocratic.” How times have changed.

In the age of meritocracy, sloth is hardly a helpful quality in gaining admission to the elite university. And anything “aristocratic” would have to be an individual eccentricity as the school is seeking to discourage “exclusivity” by banning freshmen from joining fraternities and sororities.

The announcement made national news.

“We have found that [fraternities and sororities] can contribute to a sense of social exclusivity and privilege and socioeconomic stratification among students,” said Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan in a statement posted on the school’s website.

“A major concern is that they select their members early in freshman year,” they continued, “when students are most vulnerable to pressures from peers to drink, and before they have had a full opportunity to explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships. We hope students coming to Princeton will want to expand their circle of acquaintances and experiences, not prematurely narrow them.”

Citing drinking and targeting freshman sounds like a ploy for a bigger agenda of social engineering. Attempting to legislate students’ social lives in the interest of eliminating “exclusivity” and promoting “diversity” is political correctness run amok, and I say this as a guy who was never in a fraternity or any other college organization (or college, for that matter) that could be considered exclusive, and whose friends are as diverse as they come. But this levelling effect in the interest of equality is obscene. — CC

52 Comments on "Princeton’s Plan To Discourage Exclusivity"

  1. “levelling” — you sound like a reactionary capitalist circa the gilded age.

    anyway, this will be the last time i visit this blog.

  2. This used to be the policy at most all schools in the early 20th century. Citing the temperance movement and anti-Masonic feelings, freshmen were forbidden to join fraternities until their 2nd semester or 2nd year. So rather than make freshmen official members, they would allow freshmen to “pledge” themselves to the fraternity, but not actually become a member in an attempt to skirt the rules. As time went on, this “pledge” period evolved into the hazing we know today as a means to prove their devotion to the fraternity.

    According to Princeton’s website they DO have a history department, I’m curious why they seem determined to repeat it?

  3. Yes, but was the Vice President wearing a soft shouldered sack jacket when she made this determination? If not, I don’t care.

  4. Agreed- this seems ridiculous.

  5. Princeton Alum | August 25, 2011 at 8:52 am |

    Very uninformed post, reflects very little thought.

  6. I was waiting for a Princetonian to say that.

    For the record, I made an overture via Twitter to have a Princeton student write this up.

  7. I went to Amherst in the early Nineties, which I can say for sure I would not have done had the fraternities not been abolished in the mid-Eighties. I certainly did not consider Princeton. For many, many smart people, fraternities are a big turn-off. Princeton is probably making the right move.

    But here’s the kicker: while I was there, I heard occasional rumors about the activities of the underground fraternities who remained active off-campus, but they seemed completely irrelevant to my life. I didn’t know anyone who was in one of them. And yet, at my ten-year reunion when it no longer mattered, I discovered that plenty of guys I knew were actually members the whole time. Very confused feelings, at that point.

  8. Gentleman Mac | August 25, 2011 at 9:59 am |

    In an effort to ease any exclusivity unease I may create, I have decided to cut the buttons off of my shirt collars.

  9. Scott Fitzgerald was a member of Triangle Club when they planted a couple of bums in the audience for their annual musical and instructed them to get up and walk out the moment a cast member boasted on stage he was “Skull and Bones” at Yale. A Bonesman traditionally absented himself from the room any time a non-anointed mentioned the sacred society.

    The far side of paradise.

  10. Hear hear.

  11. Princeton Student | August 25, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    And for many, many other smart people, Kagi, they are an integral part of the social scene. It’s easy to make assumptions about Greek organizations based on stereotypes, and recent events at Yale and other schools have done nothing to dispel the largely negative image that the public holds of them. But assuming that since a small number of fraternities have become high-profile disasters, all fraternities are similar in their methods and equally at fault–that’s just wrong.
    The situation at Princeton is different in other ways. For one, the school doesn’t officially recognize fraternities or sororities, meaning that they are not allowed houses. This fact alone greatly reduces their social footprint on campus and makes the administration’s claims of social stratification and exclusivity rather absurd. Greeks at Princeton are some of the nicest, most open people I know, and Greek organizations some of the most diverse in terms of socioeconomic background (they help members who struggle to pay dues) and race. I can tell you that this proposal is viewed with incredulity by the vast majority of Princeton students, who, like me, struggle to understand why the administration is vilifying a part of the student body that is largely harmless, often beneficial to the community, and at worst is guilty of charges that could be leveled at every other campus student organization, all of whom compete viciously for new freshmen members at the beginning of the year. It’s a move that’s disappointing, but, given President Tilghman’s well-known distaste for Greeks, not surprising at all.

  12. College Student | August 25, 2011 at 11:46 am |

    I actually agree with Princeton’s decision. My school (one of the “new ivies,” not the HYP set) doesn’t allow freshmen to even pledge until second semester and it’s worked really well. It allows students to meet others and foster interests outside of greek life during first semester, one of the most important times of social development in college. Greek life definitely isn’t discouraged and a lot of students decide to pledge, but it helps curb the exclusivity that can come with fraternity/sorority membership.

  13. Tad Allagash | August 25, 2011 at 11:51 am |

    If i’m not mistaken, don’t eating clubs pretty much take the place of fraternities at Princeton? If fraternities are socially marginalized in that way then this announcement doesn’t have much a real impact on students.

    Honestly even at schools where fraternities take primacy, holding off pledging until at least spring semester isn’t a bad idea. Allows one to get acclimated to school first. Otherwise you have a lot of kids two weeks into their college life that didn’t get a bid and are wondering if they made the right choice.

  14. The 100 Percent rule, whenever that took effect (’50s or so), actually seems like a reasonable rule to curb exclusivity, especially back when the campus community was a lot smaller and the school was just beginning to take students on merit who weren’t from the St. Grottlesex group.

    But the new rule has all this social engineering rhetoric thrown in that frankly makes me retch.

  15. I agree that trying to control the lives of college freshmen is dubious. I also find it hard not to snort when an official from Princeton complains of “exclusivity” but fails to mention Princeton’s dining clubs. At that point, this does appear to be thinly-veiled temperance activism.

  16. That’s funny, I think the alcohol is just an excuse for the social engineering.

    Even if fraternities booze it up more than other student gatherings, you can’t stop college students from drinking.

  17. Princeton Student | August 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm |

    I agree, spring pledge makes sense. But read carefully and you’ll find that the school is banning rush until sophomore year. Students join eating clubs sophomore year if they so choose, so the change will to an extent force them to choose one or the other. Tad–eating clubs have a much higher population (approx. 85% of the student body) at Princeton than fraternities and sororities (15%) do, and fulfill the social functions that Greek orgs do at most colleges. That’s why this announcement is so hypocritical. Eating clubs are guilty of the same offenses (social exclusivity, underage drinking, etc.), but they have much stronger alumni backing, so the administration not only ignores them, but in many cases actually provides funding for students to join them. But Princeton has to look like it’s making a stand. Ergo, fraternities must go.

  18. When I was at UNC-Chapel Hill (1968-72), not only was pledging not allowed until 2d semester/freshman year, 1st semester freshmen weren’t allowed to even go onto fraternity grounds, or be “recruited” in any way. Didn’t seem to make much difference, guys who intended to be in fraternities pretty much did so, and the rest of us who didn’t really care still didn’t. I think it’s not a bad idea to wait to decide what you want to do, and learn a bit about campus life before you commit; after all, you can’t resign one and then join another (or can you these days?, still don’t care).

  19. Johnny Post | August 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm |

    He didn’t want to ban fraternities altogether, just make the freshman kids (for that is what they are, teenagers) wait until sophmore year. Similar to how many schools make all freshmen live in the dorms first year.

    Doesn’t sound all that unreasonable to me.

  20. “I made an overture via Twitter to have a Princeton student write this up.”

    Talk about lazy. God forbid you exert yourself.

    If they legitimately wanted to discourage exclusivity they would do away with the eating clubs.

  21. Christian: the way I read the quotes you include in the post, a (probably futile) attempt to curb drinking is what jumps out at me. This is something I have observed during the past decade at both the colleges I attended, and I imagine it is widespread among institutions of higher learning.

    I find this post very interesting and a fun addition to the topics for I visit this blog. But I’m not sure I understand the particular reason you find Princeton’s policy to be so troublesome (and this is probably my own shortcoming). Is it that you think that Princeton is trying to compel its students who are part of the Establishment to socialize with those who are not (yet) part of the Establishment? And you think that is heavy-handed? It sounds like good policy to me–and a policy characteristic of old guard schools. Students at St. Paul’s School (and probably lots of similar schools) must sit down to formal dinners periodically with fellow students–and they may not select the students with which they dine at those dinners. One function of this is surely to compel students to socialize with students with which they would not socialize unless they were forced. Building strong bonds with as many classmates as possible is good policy because it develops broader networks for the students, which should lead to more successful careers–which should in turn lead to more money donated to Old Alma Mater. To me it just seems like good business.

  22. Anyway, great post, as always.

  23. What went unsaid in the official memo is that any freshman found in violation of the new directive will be subject personally by the Dean to Double Secret Probation.

  24. It’s not clear to me what good your purportedly exclusive undergraduate education has done you. Writing a snarky blog about clothes? What an achievement!

  25. What’s Joe talking about?

  26. He misread you?

  27. He can’t be talking about me. I don’t have an exclusive undergraduate education, nor a snarky blog about clothes.

  28. Christian, this is an extremely common policy among elite institutions (some NESCACs have even banned them!). I find from practical experience that: a) it does some good in mixing up the social strata in the first year (which absolutely does play into the academic mission of any college or university), and b) there’s no real hardship in waiting a little and it certainly doesn’t stop students from drinking or exercising free will.

    your complaints are load of rubbish. to say this is unfair against the privileged class at Princeton or elsewhere is bullcrap (I use that term facetiously – as if there should be a group of students at any elite institution that is somehow more elite or deserves special protection as a class, instead of just treating the student body as one group; everyone, regardless of socioeconomic, family background already is smart and ‘elite’ by any reasonable definition)

  29. Craig Smith | August 26, 2011 at 2:45 am |

    This kind of policy produces beauties
    like Sotomayer & Kagan. Princeton
    is run by idiots.

  30. Bill Stephenson | August 26, 2011 at 5:26 am |





  31. I live in a small, relatively wealthy town, which includes a run down, once exclusive mens’ club. I have been told Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain visited this club on occasion, so I guess it must have been something. Anyhow, a distant relative applied for membership in the 1930’s and was denied. He was really bitter about it.

    Now, any “pledge” can join for $ 35 a month. “What goes up, must come down.”

  32. Michael Mattis | August 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |

    Why is Bill shouting?

  33. Current Princeton Student | August 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |

    To give some context, many of the frats/sororities on campus exist to help with the bicker process. We have “eating clubs” which are where many upperclassmen choose to take their meals and some of them are selective. Being in a frat/sorority may give one an advantage. I haven’t personally observed that ties between specific greek organizations and specific eating clubs, but I would concede that it’s helpful to know upperclassmen when bickering.

    The dynamic at our campus with greek organizations is a little bit different than at others.

  34. Craig> Is that a haiku?

  35. Farmer Jones | August 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm |

    I have a solution for reducing undergraduate binge drinking. Lower the drinking age to 18 and bring the bars back on campus. Done.

  36. Patrick Mallon | August 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm |

    Their magnanimous egalitarianism doesn’t apply to joining the military or allowing ROTC on campus!

  37. Andrew S. Eastman | August 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm |

    Dartmouth did this years ago and it was a blessing in disguise: we all made friends with everybody during our first year and bonded as a class before dispersing to Greek houses as sophomores. Then, for the rest of our time there, everybody had a friend in every house. It did a lot for Greek cohesion and unity, and nobody drank any less.

    Our main complaint was that, on graduating, a lot of us wished we’d had four years to enjoy being members of fraternities instead of three.

  38. Even when a university today does something sensible, like trying to curb drinking, it cannot resist clothing it in the rationale of political correctness. Our educational institutions have never preached tolerance more, and practiced it less, than today.

  39. @Michael Mattis

    Bill is our elder statesman and a bit hard of hearing. He has to write in all-caps in order to hear himself.

  40. ThisSideOfParadise | August 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm |

    When I read This Side of Paradise I got the impression Fitzgerald was cynical about the ways Princeton’s societies and cliques divided the students and how they trapped the students into a social structure that spit them out as clerks on Wall Street. Fitzgerald’s character, Amory Blaine, seemed to admire those who ignored this and were instead interested in finding deeper truths through literature. Early division of the students into cliques through societies and clubs worked against them growing as individuals. And as much as he was a social climber, Fitzgerald found it stifling,

    When it comes to blogs such as this, we revere the romance in Fitzgerald’s tales. We have a romantic image of early 20th century Princeton that we don’t want tainted by different Princeton of present day. But, seriously, one hundred years later, who cares? Who cares unless you go there?

    I just find this commentary on Princeton’s present day student policy from a nostalgic style blog really presumptuous and out of touch.

    Anyway, my school was full of hipsters who looked down on frat bros. The hipsters read F. Scott Fitzgerald and the frat bros read James Patterson.

  41. Princeton Student | August 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm |

    Greek organizations have a lot less social power at Princeton because of the eating clubs. Eating clubs are richer, more populous, and have houses.What eating club a student is in matters far more socially than whether or not he or she is in a fraternity or sorority. Moving against Greek orgs because they stratify the social scene is pointless unless the administration goes against eating clubs as well, which they won’t (see: Eating clubs are richer). In any case, no fraternity or sorority member that I know associates with only his fellow members. I’d disagree with what Current Princeton Student, that fraternities and sororities exist to help with bicker. That may be a side effect of membership, but every group on campus with >10 members can help with bicker as well.
    Princeton administration is making Greek organizations punching bags for issues that are either far more widespread than just fraternities or sororities (intense freshman recruitment, underage drinking, funneling into eating clubs) or are simply false (“socio-economic stratification,” “social elitism”). By taking action against Greeks, Princeton is removing a viable social option from freshmen without presenting a (rational) alternative and is thereby doing them a great disservice.

  42. Johnny Post | August 28, 2011 at 2:28 am |

    Who gives a shit?

  43. Johnny Post | August 28, 2011 at 2:29 am |

    Fraternities are for dickheads.

  44. For those interested in Fitzgerald’s depictions, you should most likely read _Stover at Yale_, which was more influential on Fitzgerlad’s _This Side of Paradise_ than his own experiences at Princeton.

  45. Bill Stephenson | August 30, 2011 at 4:21 am |



  46. ^ Bill — great to see you back — hope your recovery goes well.

  47. The kicker here….Fraternities (and Sororities mind you) aren’t officially recognized by the University…so I ask, where does the administration get off banning something that “doesn’t exist.”

  48. I echo Andrew Eastman’s comment.

    At Dartmouth, you can’t pledge until your Sophomore year, so you actually make friends outside of the fraternity and as a result I have a much wider circle of friends. I can go to any fraternity party on campus and know a brother standing around in the basement. I’m not sure that would be the case at any other school, and I’m glad its the way Dartmouth works.

  49. Hardly anyone at Princeton even joins fraternities or sororities. Eating clubs are more prominent.

  50. @Andrew S. Eastman: Sophomore .year pledging (with the occasional dirty) has been the policy at Dartmouth since at least 1969.

  51. At the HBCU’s you can’t pledge (well pledging is no longer allowed) until sophomore year. I don’t know how they do it at Princeton but at HBCU’s, you earn your way into a frat by waiting a year and then undergoing a rigorous pledging process.

    This definitely deepens your appreciation for your organization.

  52. @ scholar

    Sophomore pledging only started with the class of ’93, though it may have been different in the late 60s and early 70s. During the 80s, freshman pledging was the norm.

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