In a historic move, the Spee Club, one of Harvard’s final clubs, has for the first time invited women to participate in its punch process, positioning it to become the first of the College’s eight all-male final clubs to go co-ed.
By early Friday morning, some sophomores—both men and women—had received envelopes under their doors inviting them to a reception next week at the Spee Club’s building at 76 Mount Auburn St., typical of how the social clubs punch, or put up for entry, prospective members each fall.
Early Friday morning, Spee Club president Matthew E. Lee ’16 confirmed to The Crimson in an email that the club’s members had “voted to welcome all genders in their Fall Punch.” He declined to comment further, and several other members could not be reached.
The move comes as Harvard’s final clubs—which are currently all single-sex and remain officially unrecognized by Harvard—face increased scrutiny from both administrators and some students. A vocal critic of the groups, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana has been meeting with representatives from the clubs in private, including their graduate boards. And earlier this week, University President Drew G. Faust discussed the clubs at length with The Crimson and questioned their place at the College.
Amid this pressure, the male final clubs have been uncharacteristically quiet, hosting notably fewer parties at the start of this school year and weighing adopting members-only policies, although the Spee hosted at least one party over Labor Day weekend.
The Spee, founded in 1852, counts prominent alumni such as U.S. President John F. Kennedy ’40 among its former members. It was the first final club at Harvard, in 1965, to accept a black member.
Several women who received invitations to the first Spee punch event said the sight of the card—bearing cursive typeface and sealed with an ornate “S”—under their doors was unexpected, but mostly welcome.
One female sophomore described hearing the news of the change through The Crimson before she discovered the paper invitation that had been slipped under her door. The student observed that it was “crazy” to see that such a historical institution was changing.
Today, Harvard hosts five all-female clubs in addition to their male counterparts, but the women’s groups are relatively new additions to the College’s social scene.
Male final clubs have embedded themselves, structurally and symbolically, in Harvard’s history for more than a century. Previously, they were recognized institutionally by the College, but after they rejected administrators’ demands that they admit women, the clubs severed ties with the University in 1984.
To date, although Harvard still does not recognize any of the clubs, administrators navigate a precarious relationship with their leaders. Administrators meet with club officers regularly to discuss alcohol safety and sexual assault training, among other points, but also remain publicly critical of them.
Specifically, officials highlight the fact that the clubs are single-sex, raising concerns about alcohol use and the potential for sexual assault to occur on club property, which is off-campus. Khurana and others have also recently levied more general criticism of what they say is “exclusivity” in the club scene.
The Spee itself is no stranger to controversy. In March, the club apologized in the face of backlash after it circulated a party invitation that some students deemed sexist. Khurana publicly decried the invitation in a mass email to undergraduates, deeming the electronic missive “offensive.”
The Spee’s decision to invite women to participate in punch this year will change the dynamic of the established process. Annually, clubs host several rounds of events before winnowing down the pool of prospective members and ultimately extending membership offers to a small group.
It remains unclear how other male clubs, and their female counterparts, will react to the news. At least one other club, but not all of them, have begun punching prospective members. And although other male clubs—notably, the Fox—have discussed admitting women before this year, their graduate board members have previously pushed back.
Undergraduate presidents of several male final clubs could not be reached for comment early Friday morning.
—Karl M. Aspelund contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.