WELL, well, well.
After 159 years as an all-male club, Yale's Hoary Skull and Bones secret society inducted seven women last Thursday. Meanwhile, Harvard's nine all-male final clubs remain "in the 19th century," as one Bones member said of his club's dying exclusionary policy.
But in an unlikely replay of the civil rights struggle, the members' welcome move to equality was stymied by the club's tradition-bound graduate board of directors, which opposed the decision and changed the locks on the Skull and Bones "tomb." The Bones' graduate board even proposed an absurd compromise plan calling for "separate but equal" facilities for women.
The long-overdue decision to admit women to the prestigious organization is encouraging. Whether or not current Skull and Bones members have the legal right to ignore their graduate board's wishes is questionable but really secondary. If Bones members are unable to gain access to the tomb, they can find another meeting place.
The real issue is all-male clubs' antiquated attitudes toward women. The graduate board is using legal squabbling to ignore this, just as it has stalled on current members' calls for integration for at least a year. But the Bones members were willing to defy their grad board's foot-dragging. Harvard's final clubs should learn from the Bones' gumption.
It's not as though final clubs haven't had the chance. In the spring of 1989, Phoenix Club undergraduates considered integration, but voted against it in face of Pressure from the graduate board. All nine final clubs should admit women--no matter what their alumni say.
EVEN IF the final clubs do follow the Skull and Bones' lead and induct women, they will still have far to go to erase the elitism which lies at the foundation of such organizations.
Admitting women will not necessarily give those women access to the networking opportunities provided by final clubs. Secret societies and elite clubs institutionalize choices about who has the right appearance, who has the right parents, who attended the right school. Those outside the sphere of acceptance are locked out--unable to gain access to the old-boy network of business connections.
Should Yale men and women join the Skull and Bones now that the club's gender discrimination is fading away? We think not. But until same-six policies are abolished at Harvard's final clubs, the question of joining on this campus is a very easy call. Stay away.