Futile Fuss Over Final Clubs

THE other morning, I woke up and, while rubbing the sleep from my eyes, grabbed my faithful issue of The Crimson. As I glanced over the page, searching for anything interesting, I read the headline, "Group Takes Aim At Fly Club." I couldn't believe it. There is now, as we speak, a student group with the specific intent of attacking final clubs. I can't believe the issue has gone this far.

It all started when Lisa J. Schkolnick '88 decided to file a discrimination complaint against the Fly Club for excluding women. She and her lawyer plan to bring the case to court if she has no luck with the state agency covering discrimination. Now there is a whole group of students--with flyswatters in hand and $250 of our Undergraduate Council fees in their pockets--rallying around her cause.

All this fuss over what? Well, backers of the suit say that club members are entitled to certain privileges such as networking and club side benefits that women lose out on by virtue of their sex.

I mean, let's face the truth, how influential are the final clubs upon a person's career? Does Lisa Schkolnick really think that membership in the Fly Club gives anyone an unfair advantage over the rest of us poor s.o.b.s? Let's examine the facts...

First of all, Schkolnick, a Mather House senior, said that she is modeling her case after that of Sally Frank, a former Princeton undergraduate who sued one of that college's eating clubs for sexual discrimination. But that comparison seems a bit stretched.

For example, that case involved a group of clubs which are much more intimately involved in student life--and only two of which discriminated against women. A large portion of the undergraduates eat at these clubs on a regular basis. Even Kevin Baker, a Boston lawyer who volunteered to help Schkolnick, admitted in a recent Crimson article that, in Frank's case, there was "a different situation, different statutes, and a different set of facts."

Perhaps Schkolnick was inspired by a recent Supreme Court case against the New York State Club Association. Many rich and famous social clubs, such as the Century Club, are under attack by professional business women who charge that commercial interactions take place among the restricted membership of the clubs, and thus women are prevented from having equal access to their colleagues in the business community.

Can the same case be made against the final clubs on campus? I fail to see a comparison. Aren't all citizens granted the right to free association by the Bill of Rights? Where does it say that, in a purely social atmosphere, students can't form a club with other members of their own choosing? As council member Jonathan Leff '90 put it, when the council debated whether or not to support the case, "Those who support this resolution are in fact sacrificing freedom to impose their own vision on our society."

New York law dictates that private clubs will only be subject to public laws concerning gender discrimination if they have more than 400 members, provide a regular meal service, and accept payments from corporations who pay the employee's membership dues. None of these characteristics apply to final clubs. Final clubs exist solely as social institutions, not as business associations involved in commercial activities. Female students really aren't missing out on that much.

THE creation of Stop Withholding Access Today (SWAT)--a true grassroots organization, which plans to fund its activities on behalf of the suit with the profits of a "Girl Scout-style" cookie sale--really confounds me. The organization claims that female students who are not members of final clubs are denied the exclusive opportunity to "network" with members. Thus, the premise here is that female students are missing out on that traditional Harvardian experience--power-lunching with the rich and famous.

Does this mystical "networking" really exist? Maybe it did fifty years ago, when a good majority of the undergraduates came from exclusive prep schools and already knew most of the people in their class. Then, elitism was pervasive in career and social advancement, from birth to silver spoons to death. I doubt Harvard could be characterized as perpetuating such a discriminatory system today.

Even if there are any small benefits to be gained from belonging to a final club, there are many other opportunities for students to advance their careers at Harvard. Membership in a final club is only a miniscule part of that.

Look at the Office for Career Services. It provides all undergraduates with extensive information about jobs. And female students already belong to another organization which excludes men, Radcliffe College. Radcliffe sponsors numerous programs for women that men don't participate in. I don't mean to condemn Radcliffe's offerings, I just mean to point out that women have access to many career resources.

SWAT claims that despite Harvard's nonrecognition of final clubs, there exists a "semi-official" connection between the University and the clubs. However, it is unclear to me what kind of connection that could possibly be. The clubs own the buildings and their own property. They are financially independent, and they even get their own heat.

If Schkolnick did succeed in her crusade, imagine what would happen. First of all, even if women were allowed by law to be "punched," I highly doubt that any of the clubs would let them in. Instead, the likely result would be the eventual destruction of the clubs, which would deal a fatal blow to the already heavily damaged social life on campus. If Schkolnick is so adamant about the "benefits" women are missing out on, why doesn't she put her efforts towards something constructive, like creating a program to further female students' contacts with one another and with professionals.

I am not trying to promote final clubs. I do not belong to one nor do I want to belong to one. If I had to choose, I would rather they didn't exist at all. But I don't believe that any of the hidden "benefits" from club membership real exist.

The issue of gender discrimination is a very serious one, and should not be taken lightly. In the professional world, women are often discriminated against simply upon the basis of their sex, and that is clearly wrong. In this case, however, I just fail to see why Lisa Schkolnick believes women are discriminated against. Those mystical "benefits" just don't exist.