Illustration by Alice Maiden

“Fight bicker!  Do better!  You do not need bicker to feel worthy!”

That was Aamir Zainulabadeen ‘18, who lives under the independent meal plan.  I ran into him the night of February 6th, shortly after receiving an invitation via email to bicker St. Archibald’s League, an illustrious new club.  He was holding two, freshly handmade signs — one said “Fight Bicker Do Better,” and the other said “Be Inclusive.”  There was to be a protest of St. Archibald’s League, he told me, and I was invited to join him.

The following night, I showed up to the site of St. Archibald’s at 8 PM and spotted Aamir standing right by the entryway.  He held his “Fight Bicker Do Better” sign high in the air.  The other one was propped up against his shins.  So, I kind of invited myself into this counter-protest by picking up the second sign and engaging students as they passed by.

The League was complete satire, orchestrated by Kyle Berlin ‘18 and some of his friends.  What I didn’t know was that the idea for Aamir to “protest” the League was Kyle’s as well.  The two students met during a creative writing class this past semester.

Aamir recalled the two bonding over their mutual distaste: “Kyle reached out to me after I emailed the Independent listserv writing, ‘I hate bicker, let’s end it.’”

“Pay no attention to these students,” Kyle — in-character as St. Archibald’s bouncer — said to curious students as Aamir and I yelled, “Be inclusive!  Fight bicker!”

The main goal of the protest was to draw attention to the League’s “bicker” and to encourage more students to think about the separationist ideals perpetuated by Princeton’s bicker process.  We made sure that everyone heard our message — we hurled aggressively positive one-liners towards students walking past us, people on the other side of the street, cyclists, and more.  We also handed out anti-bicker flyers, as part of Kyle’s Club Revolución campaign.  One student was handed a Hydrology syllabus that was mixed in with the flyers.  That was our mistake.

As to be expected, some students ignored us.  Others gave us some confused looks.  And a small handful didn’t take us seriously.

“You know Campus Club isn’t bicker, right?”  We were aware.

Now, I have never participated in a protest before, but as far as protests go, this experience was pretty manageable — it was small, orchestrated, and satirical.  But our message was not, and what mattered was that the university community heard us.  Plenty of students stopped to chat with us about bicker.  Some were entirely against it.  Some bicker supporters asked us to explain our stance and offered counterarguments.  The most curious cases were the students who, like myself, were on the fence about the situation, because their questions were often solution-focused.

“Say we did get rid of bicker – what would we do in its place?”

We didn’t have an immediate answer — Kyle stepped out of character for a bit to address some of the tougher questions.  And therein was the point of the protest.  We got people talking, and we had people asking questions.

Illustration by Alice Maiden

The League’s “All Welcome; Few Worthy” bicker process was an exaggeratedly elitist, well-coordinated lampoon of the system through which some Princeton students attempt to join certain Eating Clubs.  Kyle/The Bouncer enticed students with promises of prestige and connections, should they be deemed worthy to join.  After lining students up single-file and giving them his best judgmental stares, he sent them inside, where well-dressed students conducted group interviews.  They asked questions that escalated from “Where are you from?” to “Based on my appearance, how many guys would you say I’ve hooked up with?”  Half of the students were “hosed,” and the accepted half of the students received a passbook and did some “club chants.”

This was all secondhand information to me.  Sarah Wang ‘18, who bickered St. Archibald’s and was accepted, offered to hold my sign so I could check it out (“It’s pretty funny,” she said).  But I felt pretty committed to my conscientious objector role, so I didn’t go inside.

I handed my sign off to another student after about an hour, mostly because my hands were freezing.  I gave Aamir a farewell hug, introduced myself to Kyle, and left feeling like less of a phony than I did when I started.  I haven’t been a particularly strong opponent of bicker – I personally never intended to bicker, but I also have not been as observant of the culture of exclusivity and personality-vetting that it supports on campus.  So in that sense, I felt like maybe this was someone else’s fight.

But pro-inclusivity was, for me, the stronger message of the protest.  I followed up with Aamir later, and we agreed that it was a great success.  He noted that there was a very sizable turnout, and we fielded lots of interesting questions.

I honestly didn’t expect to show up in foggy photos in Princeton publications as one of the “group of students” protesting the League.  Even though Aamir and Kyle had put way more heart and soul into this message than I had, I didn’t feel out of place holding my handmade “Be Inclusive” sign.  Because who doesn’t want to feel included?  Who doesn’t want to feel comfortable, welcomed, and valued?

To say that people only go through the bicker process to feel extrinsic value would be false — plenty of people genuinely enjoy the communities fostered within the bicker Eating Clubs.  But Kyle and Aamir emphasized that these were communities that thrived on building walls — that intentionally kept people out to preserve a certain “character.”  A common argument we heard was that the “real world” was a lot like the bicker process — that the importance of social climbing and the inevitability of judgment were irrefutable.  I think that’s disputable, but if that were true, all the more reason to include students now.

It’s easy to feel excluded outside of Bicker, and eating clubs in general.  But a close community in which to get involved will never be more accessible than when students share a campus, schoolwork struggles, decisions on majors, and their own “Bubble.”

I definitely don’t have all the answers here, and the whole discussion on bicker is important in that it’s so nuanced and institutional — it will continue long after we graduate.  But the continuation of that discussion is what’s important.  And that’s Doing Better.