Last week, Harvard students in most Houses received flyers that parodied final club punch invitations. They invited students to punch “The Pigeon, Harvard’s newest final club,” wearing “semi-bro attire.” The fake punch invitations quickly generated news coverage due to their inflammatory mockery of the exclusive nature of final clubs: They read, “Jews need not apply. Seriously, no fucking Jews. Coloreds OK.” They also cited one of the three values of The Pigeon, “Love,” as synonymous with “rophynol,” a misspelling of rohypnol, known to most students as roofies.
Dean of Harvard College Evelynn M. Hammonds posted a response to the flyers in the comments section of The Crimson’s article about the flyers. She wrote, “I find these flyers offensive. They are not a reflection of the values of our community. Even if intended as satirical in nature, they are hurtful and offensive to many students, faculty and staff, and do not demonstrate the level of thoughtfulness and respect we expect at Harvard.”
While we too find the flyers tasteless and their use of inflammatory language inappropriate and unconstructive, a response to the prank cannot be properly made without a meaningful appraisal of the role of final clubs at Harvard. In this vein, we instead choose to highlight the very real threats wrought on our campus by final clubs. The satirical letters may have failed to demonstrate “thoughtfulness and respect,” but their implication that final clubs are unsafe for women is much more noteworthy.
What is perhaps most troubling about the flyers is that they brought to light the destructive influence of final clubs on social life on campus. They have forced into the spotlight something that many on campus feel privately: that final clubs systematically discriminate against women. Not only have the clubs failed to extend membership to women many years after Harvard became a coeducational institution, but they also routinely invite hoards of women and few men to their parties. It is not difficult to imagine that the male-controlled party venues, where club members decide what is served and who is invited and where women can only ever come as guests, may be unsafe for female students. While the University does not release statistics about incidences of sexual assault at on-campus and off-campus properties, it is not unreasonable to suspect, as many students do, that final clubs engender environments that are conducive to sexual violence. It is clear that final clubs have a negative influence on Harvard’s social scene, and the controversy that has erupted over last week’s prank flyers is a particularly unfortunate display of their destructive divisiveness.
It might not have been the best way to do it, but the authors of the Pigeon punch letter have effectively pointed to the well-earned reputation of final clubs for misogyny and exclusivity. The clubs continue to be the most visible discriminatory organizations on campus, and, to use Dean Hammonds’s words, “They are not a reflection of the values of our community.” Any Harvard students and administrators interested in ending discrimination on campus should turn their attention to final clubs.