Punch season is over, but discussions about the role of final clubs on campus are likely to linger. Over the course of the past few weeks, The Crimson has released a number of editorials on the subject of single sex clubs; the debate may grow stronger as the Greek system continues to push for Harvard recognition, raising questions about the place of the final clubs as well.
These issues are well worth discussing, for the final clubs are the most visible example of sexism on campus. Think of it this way: About $22 million worth of property, sitting in the middle of Harvard, between the houses and across from dorms, is inaccessible to women of the college. If you come to Harvard as a man, you’ll have a chance, however small, to gain entry to a private space and a large network, one that will form the core of your social life and might help you get a job. If you come to Harvard as a woman, you’ll only make it through the door in heels and a short skirt.
Yet, even by people who recognize these inequalities, the issue is often dismissed as unimportant or too difficult to address. There’s the “boys will be boys” line—mentioned by both men and women—that people of each gender benefit from time secluded from the other. Proponents of this argument will inevitably point to the female final clubs, although these, smaller and without property, are hardly equal to the male-only clubs. (I should mention here that I am a member of the Signet society, a coed arts and letters society at Harvard).
These responses are in a large part reflective of the inequality itself. Reporting on this article, I heard explanations that veered into the absurd: If men punched women, they’d only pick the hot chicks they wanted to hook up with. If you allowed women in clubs, there’d be twice the legacies, and therefore less diversity. Listening to these claims enumerated, even by those who did not believe them, I felt a deep sense of dismay. We are expected to come into Harvard as peers in excellence; we graduate with the same diploma. How could it be that the University allows for a space for such thoughts to go by uncontested?
But by far the biggest response, and the one I’d like to challenge here, is that there’s nothing to be done. Final clubs have been around forever, and will stay that way in their current state. “You are about fifteen years too late!” said Douglas W. Sears, Graduate Board President of the Fox, when I called to ask about the push to go coed.
And so I’ve listed a few points to address:
I’ve often been told that the singlesex nature of clubs is to be attributed to the graduate boards that own them. It’s true that in past cases, some graduate boards have influenced the nature of the clubs. When the Fly voted to go coed in 1993, the vote was delayed by the graduate board and eventually overturned. And boards have put procedures in place to make a coed majority unlikely to be successful unless it is sustained. At the Spee, a majority must vote for several consecutive years to make a change, according to Arthur C. Anton Jr., its graduate board president. (For those curious about the make-up of these boards, a fairly comprehensive list of graduate board members can be found on the website of Perspective Magazine).
In this case, Harvard students can take a cue from Yale, where graduate board members who opposed women joining the secret society Skull and Bones were eventually overturned after a committed campaign by undergraduates.
Or consider the attempts laid out by last year’s Students for Safe Social Spaces. This group sought to look at social spaces at Harvard from all angles, and has tried to get the University to discuss publically the final clubs in a statement, according to their website.
Some of their suggestions are well worth support: The University instructs students about alcohol before they even set foot on campus, all the while realizing that Harvard itself will not give alcohol to underage students. But about final clubs, they are completely silent. Why not talk with students about punch, as the group has suggested—at both Freshman Week and through sophomore advising?
In addition, I share the group’s concern that the differences between events that happen on campus and those that happen "off" it are not always clear, especially when they relate to issues of alcohol consumption and assault. Jeff Neal, a Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman says that Harvard urges “full participation” in Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors and The Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response trainings by final clubs. But shouldn’t all students be more fully informed about the difference between partying on or off campus?
We come to Harvard hoping to learn about ourselves, find our interests and leave ready to change the world. We can start this by addressing those that govern our day-to-day life.
Madeleine M. Schwartz ’12 is a history and classics concentrator in Kirkland House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.