Committee: Party Buzz-Kill

The recent ruckus over final clubs is hardly the first (or final) word

I do go to final clubs. Ask me why.

It’s not because I am hoping to catch a clubby guy, or because I have a date rape fantasy. I don’t go because I’m a classist, or because I’m particularly preppy—I may be both of those things, but that is not why I pay frequent visits to many a Mount Auburn St. mansion. I go because, on a Saturday night, there is more appeal in spending time in spacious lounges with people I’m likely to know than in an unfamiliar sweaty dorm room in some shady corner of campus.

Of course, a recently formed Harvard coalition would certainly assure you I’ve made the wrong choice. A new campus group is on a mission to spread the word about the evils of the age-old institutions. You’ve probably seen some of these anti-final club types wearing their disdain on their chests lately, via bright green pins printed with the phrase: “I don’t go to Finals Clubs: Ask me why!”

This group, despite naming itself the Committee to Evaluate Social Space at Harvard, has yet to engage in anything more than final-club-bashing. It seems that the coalition cannot think of any ways to improve Harvard’s social space that does not involve some sort of takeover of final club space.

Earlier this month, several dozen students gathered in Harvard Hall for a debate on the matter, sponsored by the Committee to Evaluate Social Space at Harvard and the Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society. The debate was dubbed “The First Word on Final Clubs,” posing the question: “Should a newly punched student ever consider joining a final club?”

It’s entertaining that anyone could think this debate is the “first word” on final clubs—the issue is hardly new. There is a major problem with the language of this dialogue, however—everyone wants a definitive answer on whether or not these clubs are good or evil. Yet, as with so many things, the answer is blurry.

Debating on behalf of the anti-final club position, Juliet S. Samuel ’09, who is also a Crimson editorial executive, outlined reasons final clubs belong in the lowest circle of the inferno. Her three major ones: final clubs institutionalize gender differences, punching is damaging to an individual, and clubs institutionalize privilege in a bad way.

This first objection—that final clubs are sexist—is not grounded in the context of the year 2007. Certainly members of male final clubs are not actively opposing the establishment of female counterparts—in fact, many of them enable female social organizations, providing space for event use. Sexism that existed in final clubs, and at Harvard, for that matter, is mostly a thing of the past. At this point, the onus lies upon the shoulders of Harvard women to fix the perceived lack of female space.

The second objection—that punching a final club is emotionally taxing to the individual—is a silly one. Harvard students are highly capable of taking care of themselves, having learned to effectively manage hectic course loads and extracurricular schedules. Samuel and company should not delude themselves into believing that these students are too delicate to handle punch season.

As for Samuel’s third objection, it is true that a great number of final club members do hail from wealthy backgrounds and private schooling. Yet, there are also many members who fall into socioeconomic brackets closer to the middle. Many final clubs provide financial aid for members who qualify. Furthermore, it is hasty to write off all club members as spoiled boys—many of them are as down-to-earth as their non-club counterparts. One final club president told me recently that he plans for his club to undertake community service projects this year.

There are many other flimsy objections to final clubs but most are hardly worth mentioning. The recent Disorientation Guide seems to take great pleasure in tossing around the suggestion that date rape pervades final clubs, yet they are unable to support that claim. Final clubs may not have official ties to the College anymore, but they are still subject to government regulations–they’re social clubs, not brothels.

If we’re being candid, what this really boils down to are the problems in Harvard’s overall social scene. When I arrived at Harvard, I remember having the feeling that I’d reverted to middle school. The place struck me as overwhelmingly cliquey, and final club types were hardly the worst of this—cliques seemed to exist according to race, party affiliation, and a laundry list of other characteristics.

In the case of final club exclusivity, not getting an invitation to a party may be kind of crappy, but it is hardly indicative of widespread social malaise. If anything, it’s just a symptom of what we already knew about Harvard students: many of them are pretty socially awkward. It should not be a surprise that a great chunk of them haven’t gotten over a middle school model of social interactions.

This month’s debate in Harvard Hall ended with no clear-cut winner or answer, of course, signaling what we already knew: that this debate will never end. In the meantime, the Committee to Evaluate Social Space at Harvard ought to find a real cause to throw themselves into—for instance, actually evaluating social space. For now, I’ll stick to final clubs.

As for whether or not newly punched students should consider joining final clubs, the answer is yes, that a student should—at the very least—consider membership. Final clubs certainly do not cause lasting harm to Harvard. Even if one believes these institutions foster social-ladder-climbing, this is hardly scarring.

Lucy M. Caldwell ’09 is a history and literature concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.