Women Tame Princeton's Tiger Inn

Posted: February 10, 1991

PRINCETON — Last week saw a kinder, gentler Tiger Inn.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision three weeks ago outlawing all- male eating clubs at Princeton, Tiger Inn, the last male bastion on campus, had to do some quick thinking. And some of the women who vied for membership last week - 27 were admitted Friday - say it did.

Beer guzzling is out. Root beer is in. Nudity is gone, replaced by underwear. In general, the wildest club on campus is toned down just a bit.

"I was really impressed by how everyone looked out for each other. It was such a bonding experience," said one woman who entered the membership selection process, known as bicker. "I knew that nothing bad would happen to me."

She was one of more than 160 students, including about 50 women, who sought membership at Tiger Inn. After all-night deliberations by the all-male membership, 57 men and 27 women received the lucky news Friday morning. After the new members were greeted with cheers and warm hugs, the students returned to the brown-and-white chalet for a short celebration.

Eating clubs, Princeton's version of fraternities, are the locus of campus social life. For an annual fee ranging from $2,500 to $4,500, upper-class students dine and relax at the clubs, housed in Tudor or Colonial mansions along a street adjacent to the university. On the weekends, most undergraduates migrate to the clubs and their musical entertainment and parties. Each of Tiger Inn's 110 members, not including the new initiates, pays $3,500 a year.

With traditions including "Tequila Sprints" and weekly showings of X- rated movies, Tiger Inn is considered by Princeton students to be the wildest of the university's 12 eating clubs - so much so that last year, it was the subject of a senior anthropology thesis.

Titled "Archaic Traditions: Ritual and Politics at Tiger Inn," the study contained photographs showing groups of young men, clad in togas, throwing up into strategically placed garbage cans after chugging beers.

This year, men and women who chose not to drink chugged root beer instead. (They started with milk but discovered that chugging milk induces vomiting.) Several members served as so-called "sober police" to make sure that no one drank dangerously and that no women were sexually harassed during bicker week.

"Guys I had just met asked me whether I needed someone to walk me home so I would get there safely," said one woman, adding: "I was dancing with some sophomores, and a member came up and asked me whether they were harassing me or not."

Still, there was drinking - despite the state drinking age of 21 - among both men and women. One woman said she sensed, however, that "there was more

pressure on guys who were bickering to drink than on women."

She said several men and women had stripped to their underwear during the bicker. In the past, the men would have taken off their underwear, too. In previous initiation ceremonies, in fact, members have run around the campus naked.

Yet women interviewed last week - the club imposed a gag order on all who bickered, and none would agree to have her name published - stressed that

neither pressure from other members nor club rituals had influenced whether they drank. Each said it was an individual decision made during the four-day bicker, which basically allows members to get to know the bickerees and decide whether they want to continue to hang out with them.

The admission of women at Tiger Inn ended a 12-year legal struggle by Princeton alumna Sally Frank to make all Princeton eating clubs co- educational. While a junior in 1979, Frank filed suit against Tiger Inn, Ivy Club and Cottage Club; all had refused her the opportunity to bicker.

In 1986, Cottage Club admitted women and settled out of court with Frank, now a law professor in Iowa. Ivy Club went co-ed last September, two months after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the clubs' males-only policy violated state anti-discrimination laws. Tiger Inn appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which announced Jan. 22 that it would not hear the appeal.

Several women - knowing that some members resented the order to admit both sexes - admitted that they entered bicker uneasily.

But they said they had encountered no hostility. One woman spoke of a member who told her: "I didn't really want Tiger Inn to go co-ed, but now I'm having so much fun that I'm really glad it did."

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