By Catherine Wang
For some alumni who attend colleges on the east coast, final clubs, secret societies and eating clubs provide an alternative to sororities and fraternities.
Max Eliot ’09 is a member of the Phoenix, S. K. Club, one of Harvard’s eight male final clubs. A final club is a social club, many of which have long histories at Harvard.
Early this year, Eliot was “punched” by several final clubs, meaning the clubs expressed interest in him.
The selection process included multiple gatherings and a final dinner. Between events, the clubs discussed and cut prospective members.
“It’s been going that way for hundreds of years. It’s not a fair process, but that’s life,” he said of the selection process.
Once the process ended, Eliot was formally asked to join several clubs.
After accepting Phoenix, S. K.’s offer, he and his pledge brothers were initiated in November.
Members do not live at the final club’s house, but use it as a place to hangout. Final clubs host special lunches and dinners, as well as parties.
“The social scene at Harvard is centered around final clubs,” he said. “It’s great because you have a social space. You don’t have to hunt down parties.”
Eliot describes the members of his club as “socially diverse” and “very tight.”
“I didn’t really understand what final clubs were before I got to Harvard,” he said. “But about three months into freshman year, I knew I wanted to join one.”
Jamie,* an alum, always thought she did not want to join a sorority during her college years, so she was surprised to join a secret society at Princeton University.
“Once I realized how different it was from a stereotypical Greek group, I started embracing it,” she said. “Now, I seriously can’t imagine my college career without it.”
Jamie’s secret society is co-ed with about 40 members. Its members are inclined towards humanities and share an interest in books, she said.
“I had no idea about its existence, but a couple of sophomores that I was friends with happened to be in it, so they invited me to the first rush party,” she said. “I decided to give it a chance.”
The two-month selection process began in December of her freshman year. She attended several informal gatherings and specific rush events. Jamie was formally inducted into the society in mid-February and now attends meetings weekly.
Because of all the time she spends with her pledge brothers and sisters, Jamie has become best friends with them, she said.
“I can always count on almost any of them for anything—if no one in my dorm is free for dinner, I know I can call one of them and they’ll be down,” she said.
Although the society is secret, most of Jamie’s friends know she belongs to one.
“It’s not something you advertise, but if people point blank ask you, which they do, then you’re obviously allowed to tell the truth. No one wants you to have to lie to your friends,” she said. “What’s secretive is not so much who’s in the society as what we do.”
Zane Ma ’08 is a member of the Cap and Gown Eating Club, one of Princeton University’s five selective eating clubs. These clubs serve as dining halls and social centers for juniors and seniors.
Selective eating clubs pick new members in a process called “bicker,” which varies by club.
Ma debated between bickering Cap and Gown Club and the Tower Club, which he described as “sportier.”
“The main reason I chose Cap and Gown was that I knew some members that I liked and a lot of my friends were bickering Cap and Gown,” he said.
Prospective members attended three hours of activities and games for three days.
“I was a little nervous going into it, since I didn’t know what it was like exactly,” he said. “But it was pretty relaxed. It’s not crazy stuff.”
Afterwards, the clubs hold several nights of “discussions,” during which the entire club meets and decides which prospective students fit the club best. The club then does “pickups,” during which current members bring new members to a party and welcome them.
Each club has facilities for studying and socializing and organizes field trips, hosts guests, plans parties, and sponsors intramural sports.
“It’s a place to eat and hang out,” Ma said. “Yes, the alumni network of my club is important, but the alumni network of Princeton in general is more important to me.”
*name has been changed