Illustration: Robert Neubecker
The laid-back eating club is subtly rebranding itself during a new recruitment push

Photo: Emily Hove ’26 and Daria Popova ’26

At any given time at Cloister Inn, you can find the Great Room filled with people chatting, taking naps, or watching movies together. This is the club’s greatest strength. While most eating clubs have members scattered around in small groups, Cloister members usually spend time together — studying, at mealtimes, or in the hot tub.

But recently, the club’s future has made headlines in The Daily Princetonian. The Cloister Board of Governors sent a Nov. 25 email titled “CRUCIAL: SAVE THE INN” and invited a sophomore takeover to help bolster membership.

“Membership levels at Cloister haven’t been what we want them to be for a few years in a row, and that’s a situation that’s difficult for a class of undergraduates to address on their own when they’re serving a term of one year,” Caroline McCarthy ’06, a spokeswoman for the Cloister grad board, wrote in an email to PAW. “We’re able to help with longer-term strategy as well as ensure the undergraduates have access to things like the funds for incentivized membership.”

“We’re really not in that dire of a situation. We’re at a third [of our club capacity], our cap is at 120,” said Quinn Russell ’24, the former club president. Cloister has 44 current members. When it was taken over in 1995, it only had eight members. After the takeover, 150 sophomores signed in.

The grad board has messaged the classes of 2024, 2025, and 2026 with an invitation to take over the club and submit proposals to the membership fund, a “unique opportunity for Cloister members, prospective and current, to shape their eating club experience.”

On Dec. 28, the board informed the three classes that Cloister’s membership fund had grown and could now provide “$50,000 per a graduating year of 50-plus members” or “$100,000 total per year of 80 or more members.” The financial incentives showed that alumni of Cloister are committed to keeping the club open.

Despite the tone of the grad board’s emails and The Daily Princetonian reporting, Cloister members seem relatively nonplussed.

“We’re not actually underwater, but we really wanted to run with the pun,” said August Wietfeldt ’24. “We were going to throw a Cloister ‘Under the Sea’ party or a ‘Sink or Swim’ party.” The “Innmates” also considered posting their Venmo around campus and soliciting donations to “Save the Inn.”

This reaction is indicative of Cloister’s culture, where everybody seems to have a sense of humor. “There’s no panic button. Everyone is just really happy with the way things are, and of course we always want more members, but I don’t think there’s any real concern going around,” said Drew Hopkins ’24.

The majority of members understand that the club will continue and are actively pushing for recruitment efforts. Events that have been advertised to the public — titled “Cider and Fire” and “Puppies Today!” — are in line with the club’s laid-back reputation.

Cloister is also subtly rebranding itself during this new recruitment push. “The Cloister of three years ago, and even when I joined, was very much an old boys club: pretty conservative atmosphere, very white, pretty imbalanced gender ratio,” Hopkins reflected. There is consensus among the members that the club has shifted away from its previous reputation as the place for “floaters and boaters” (members of the swimming, water polo, and rowing teams) and is now much more diverse and welcoming.

“Our motto is the club where everyone knows your name, and that is really not a joke,” said Russell. “I could name all the people in Cloister, and I could tell you something about them, because we’re all friends.”

The current members hope that sophomores will see the club as they do, as a wholesome friend group. The Class of 2026, some 1,500 students strong, was the largest incoming class in Princeton’s history, and with limited openings at other clubs on the Street, the Cloister takeover might just be successful.

“Pretty much every friend group I know is planning on taking over Cloister,” one sophomore who asked to remain anonymous told PAW. “‘Worst comes to worst, we take Cloister’ has become the joke now.”