To many students, the Hasty Pudding Club conjures up images of wealthy prep school graduates cradling wine glasses and trading compliments about each others' parents.
The Pudding's status as Harvard's oldest social club lends itself to this image. Many believe the club has not escaped its legacy of snobbery, and that its member selection process reflects a spirit of superiority that runs rampant in the Pudding.
Indeed, it is difficult for a visitor to 10 Holyoke St. to avoid this conclusion.
Upon entering the club's Member's Lounge, one immediately notices the ancient decor. The wood paneling recalls "the olde days," and antique posters and yellowed photographs of past members grace the walls. A large sign hangs on the stairway landing, boasting the number of U.S. presidents who are former members, from John Adams to John F. Kennedy '40.
If Eliot House is more Harvard than Harvard, the Hasty Pudding is more Eliot than Eliot House.
It's a reputation that club president Gabriella C. Petschek '92 isn't proud of. She says it's outdated and that the club has been trying valiantly "to create a fun, non-discriminatory environment."
Petschek says the club is fighting to reverse the stereotype that has formed over the years, adding that the "aims" of the club have changed enormously during the past three years.
"We are seeking to broaden the diversity of the members," she says, adding that the club has experimented with community service projects.
Petschek and vice president Alexandra L. Fuhrmann '92 acknowledge that the club's reputation as a bastion of elitism is one that held true until recent years.
At its founding as an all-male secret society in 1795, the Pudding embodied elitism and discrimination.
As the theatrical society became more serious about its productions, a schism evolved between the professional members and the members who just wanted to have fun.
Eventually, in the early 1970s, the society split, and the club became a distinct entity and expanded its membership to include women.
To this day, the feeling of an ancient network beneath the surface of campus life exists at the club.
The club--which has 225 members--has ambiguous links with the Hasty Pudding Theatricals as well as with two a capella groups, the Harvard Krokodiloes and the Radcliffe Pitches.
The Hasty Pudding Theatricals--an undergraduate theater company that produces a celebrated show each year--coexists in the Holyoke Street building with the club.
Upstairs at the Pudding, a gourmet restaurant in the building, originally served only club members but is now an independent business. The club occasionally holds functions there.
The Krokodiloes and the Pitches are also former occupants of the building, but they now hold rehearsals elsewhere.
The singing groups periodically perform at club functions. But club officers deny that members of these groups are automatically "punched" to join the club.
Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says the club's ties to the College are deep-seated. The College gave the theatrical society permission to use Harvard's name long ago, and Epps still considers the society and the club inextricably linked.
The club is the only social organization officially recognized by the College. Harvard severed all ties with the nine all-male final clubs about seven years ago, and kicked out the fraternities in the 1920s.
Epps says the Pudding is different from final clubs and fraternities because it doesn't discriminate on the basis of sex and it has a theatrical tradition.
Epps stresses this tradition, although the link between the club and the theatricals has diminished.
Epps says it is important for the different facets of student culture to be in balance on campus, but that college life is best when the artistic and intellectual parts dominate over the rest.
Epps points out that the club plays an important role in the cultural life of a campus which lacks a social center.
"It does provide a social life for a relatively small group of undergraduates," says Epps.
Epps also justifies College recognition of the club by noting that many student organizations on campus require potential members to undergo some sort of selection process.
According to Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, the College has no rules which prohibit restricted membership unless exclusion is on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex.
"Sheerly the fact that they are limited in membership doesn't mean [the College] should deny them recognition," says Jewett, who adds that the College shouldn't be too stringent when recognizing student groups.
Recognition of a student group does not necessarily imply endorsement by the College, he says.
But what separates the Pudding from other student organizations, of course, is that its selection process is not based on concrete merit.
Indeed, the selection process seems to depend primarily on the connections one has within the club.
Each club member is allowed to "punch" one person every semester to join the club. The members submit letters of recommendation to club officers explaining why the individual would be a good addition to the club.
After this stage, the club invites all candidates to a massive cocktail party. During the fete, each candidate must get three club officers and another member to sign a form in order to continue the punch.
The candidates then attend an open house party at the club so more members can meet them.
During the next three days, members drop off formal letters of recommendation for the punchees. The club officers evaluate the candidates and make final decisions.
Petschek and Fuhrmann describe the entire process as an "informal, non-stressful experience."
But there are those who beg to differ.
One woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recalls her experience in this fall's punch with disgust.
"Everyone there seemed like they were youngsters playing at being adults," she says, describing the initial cocktail party as "a nightmare." She says she felt uncomfortable in the club's "extremely socially aware environment."
The woman, a first-year student from Europe, says the club represented the pretentious scene she was hoping to flee when she came to America.
She says that everyone at the Pudding party had "accents of some sort or other."
Although the Club has become less WASPy and old-wealth-oriented, many students say it has not become any less elitist.
One student with strong opinions about the club says the change in the club membership merely reflects a shift in criteria. Students are now judged on looks and a certain social grace rather than on wealth and prep-school background, she says.
But Petschek emphasizes the individuality of all of the members. She says candidates are judged on "a certain strength of character" and personality.
She says the only reason the club restricts membership to 225 people is that the club's charter requires it.
Both Petschek and Fuhrmann describe the club as a place where diverse people can meet and get support for whatever projects they wish to launch.
For example, Petschek says, the Hasty Pudding is producing a magazine to be published in April or May.
Although the building provides members with a variety of advantages--including a lounge open 24 hours a day with cable TV, a pool table and a piano--Petschek says the club's motto, "In companionship we go," reflects the Pudding's true benefit.
The club sponsors a variety of activities, including monthly open house dances, each with its own theme. There are also dinners and brunches on various holidays such as Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick's Day.
Petschek says the club will launch a huge fundraising campaign next year to raise money to remodel the theater.
Anna C. Volinkaty '95, who became a member last fall, says she was wary of the club at first because of its elitist reputation. But she says she has found the club to be a great organization.
"The club is very valuable because it's the only place where all four classes, men and women alike, hang out on an equal footing," says another member.
Students pay $210 to join the club, and an additional $120 each semester.
Volinkaty says the club is definitely worth the fee. She compares it to the final clubs, some of which charge several thousand dollars per year.
But other students say the club isn't the best--or cheapest--way to make friends.
Says one former member, "It's a hypersocialite environment which is not very conducive to sincere friendships."
TOMORROW: In the last installment of the series, Anna D. Wilde reports on the Signet Society.