There are eight large social spaces in the middle of campus devoted totally to men and absolutely no space that is intended for women. Women can only enter final clubs as the guests of men, as perpetual visitors in clubs where they can never belong. Once inside, they are only allowed in certain areas of the mansion, and men control alcohol at parties—in most cases it is difficult to get a drink that has not already been handled by a man. This atmosphere of male dominance is not only downright sexist, but conducive to sexual assault.
Unlike the fraternity system at other universities, where the administration can force frats to shut down or move off campus, at Harvard, final clubs are beyond the school’s jurisdiction. While long affiliated and supported by Harvard, in 1984 the university told the clubs they had to go co-ed or go private. The clubs decided to privatize, leaving them untouchable and segregated. Finals clubs are owned and financed by “grad boards,” which are composed of club alumni. This leaves Harvard’s dominant social spaces to the control of a small group of wealthy, usually white men who do not represent the interests of the student body and have no incentive to redistribute social resources. And why would they, when they embody the very system that needs change? In 1988, Mitchell Orenstein wrote in an opinion piece for The Crimson that “Assistant Dean of Harvard College John Marquand attends finals club parties routinely and Dean L. Fred Jewett ‘57, is a member of the exclusive all-male Somerset Club in Boston.”
Furthermore, university administrators are aware of the connections between final clubs and sexual assault. In the fall of 2002, at a first-year Safe Community Night, Assistant Dean of the College Karen E. Avery ‘87 told female first-years to be aware of the “potential dangers that have been reported in regard to finals clubs.” Harvard knows but has not made public where rape occurs on campus, and offers vague warnings as their form of prevention, while they refuse to confront the reality of oppression at the College. Opening the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (OSAPR) because of pressure from student activists does not compensate for the fact that the university enables a structurally unequal environment that fosters sexism and facilitates sexual assault.
At other universities, there are student centers or public spaces that can be used to create a social alternative to the frat scene. At Harvard, there is no such thing. At other universities, there are spaces on campus run by and intended for women, people of color and religious minorities. In fact, Harvard’s “anti-discriminatory” code prohibits the creation of a women’s center—apparently such a space would bring exclusiveness to the university.
Final clubs are only the most direct representation of the patriarchy structurally inherent at Harvard. The power dynamics between men and women on a Friday night at the Spee are mirrored in the rest of life on campus—men speak more than women in class, students will have more male professors, sexual assault happens and goes unreported and men are likely to be much more financially successful after college, in part because of the networks that final clubs enable.
Men have space and resources at Harvard. Women don’t. Where can female students go to feel safe? Often, people propose getting a student center, or even buildings for women’s clubs, as the best solution. Yet though Harvard needs new social spaces, they cannot coexist with final clubs. Women’s clubs not only have several centuries of power and resources to catch up with, but they also reinforce heterosexist gender binary and economic exclusiveness. While elite male clubs exist, women cannot be equal anywhere on Harvard’s campus.
Final clubs will not change on their own. They will not change from the inside. They will not change from those in power—male members and Alumni—deciding to integrate. Final clubs have been claiming they will change soon for 20 years.
Final clubs will change when men stop joining them, when women stop showing up at their doorsteps in the dark, when we all realize that we have better things to do on a Friday night than support a system that enables sexual assault and represents oppression. We all have the power to demonstrate our rejection of the club system. We can make Harvard pay attention to the needs and interests of all of its students. We can shut down final clubs and create safe, inclusive spaces instead.
Julia M. Lewandowski ’06, is a history and literature concentrator in Dudley House. She is co-founder of SASSI-WOOFCLUBS, Students Against Super Sexist Institutions - We Oppose Oppressive Final Clubs. For more information about SASSI-WOOFCLUBS , e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.