Cutting Final Clubs Out of the Picture

At a late-night Sunday meeting in a deserted Mt. Auburn Street building, Maureen D. Connolly ’06 leaned back in her chair and tried to move things along. The Red Sox had not yet won the World Series, and she wanted to make sure she and the four other girls in the room got to watch the game.

But first they had important matters to discuss—like how to shut down eight privately owned, multi-million-dollar social clubs created before the First World War.

Connolly has a bohemian scarf casually looped around her neck over a yellow t-shirt emblazoned with a “10.” Brightly colored Pumas complete her eclectic look.

She has come a long way in the last few months. As recently as last spring, Connolly would primp for hours with her blockmates every weekend night—making every touch count before knocking on the doors of the very clubs she is now determined to destroy.

At first, it was exciting. But the weekend ritual got old, and Connolly got radical.

“I think it just kind of piled up, all of these evenings,” she says. “It was just kind of disgusting.”

So a week before classes started this semester, after long conversations with other girls—and guys—who had grown frustrated with the clubs, she decided to take action. She and co-chair Julia M. Lewandoski ’06 launched Students Against Super Sexist Institutions-We Oppose Oppressive Finals Clubs (SASSI-WOOFCLUBS) in September.

SASSI’s goal? For all the final clubs to shut down, disbanded by the clubs themselves after, SASSI members hope, they realize the error in their ways. Over 100 years of history gone, more than $17 million of property—according to numbers provided by Cambridge’s Assessment Department—sold to the highest bidder.

“I think it’s a feasible goal,” Lewandoski says. She’s not kidding.

Of course, there are obstacles, such as the members of the clubs, who pay dues each month. And the graduate boards, who control the multi-million dollar endowments—a set of middle-aged men creeping into their 60s, says one final club member, who have invested a lifetime into the perpetuation of their alma mater social organizations. In interviews with members spanning multiple clubs and generations, neither current nor past members supported anything as extreme as SASSI’s ultimate goal.

Then there’s the College itself, which has taken a hands-off approach to the clubs since it stopped recognizing them as official student groups in 1984.

“It would be very difficult to shut them down because they do own their own home,” says Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II. “We couldn’t necessarily un-recognize them because we don’t recognize them. The only way to take them down ... would be the grad boards.”

And there’s the legacy of failure that precedes SASSI.

“There’s a group like this founded each year and supplanted by another the next fall,” says Rev. Douglas W. Sears ’69, a member of one club’s grad board. “It’s not going  to have any effect one way or the other.” Sometimes Lewandoski acknowledges how impossible their dream is. “The thing is final clubs are so powerful on this campus that while there is opposition, people are afraid to say so,” she says. “There’s a lot of fear.”

But SASSI could be in a position to change those dynamics.