Infrastructure Questions: Women's Center or Porcellian?

How would Harvard be different if the Women’s Center occupied the Porcellian building?

Perhaps if the Harvard Foundation lived in the Owl?

A queer house in the Spee?

After Brianna J. Suslovic and I wrote “Dismantle Final Clubs Now” last April, I heard many people defend final clubs. At Harvard, our reflex is to defend. We regard threats to our institution as threats to our legitimacy as people, and as achievers, and our sense of self-worth comes under attack. We (myself included) find ourselves taking an unproductive, reactionary posture.

But what if you take all that away for a moment? The inertia, the aura of inevitability that surrounds final clubs on campus? What if we dismissed the heated and petty arguments about them and asked one simple question:

What could happen if final clubs went away?

A picture begins to paint itself when we loosen the strings that hold together our imagination about the future of Harvard. The Owl is quite a large building—perfect for a collaborative, intersectional place. The Women’s Center moves from its cozy Canaday hideaway to proclaim intersectional feminisms in that stately building on Holyoke Street. The vestiges of a long and dominating history come down, with little fanfare and mostly excitement. The Center is expanded, and includes classrooms for Women, Gender, and Sexuality courses. Vibrant discussions and debates about feminisms abound. The Center becomes a campus priority, both symbolically and physically moving from a basement to the core of campus. Once a bastion of aggressive masculinity, the Owl serves those it worked so hard to exclude for so long.

Such a moment—the replacement of the Owl with the Women’s Center—existed first in my mind, and I suspect in the minds of not a few others. But it did not permeate our campus’s collective imagination about what is possible. That is now changing. With questions, we have reached a tipping point. In the near distance we see two options: the status quo, domination of campus social spaces by exclusivity, or a bright, actively inclusive future. What is viewed as possible on this campus in terms of productive social spaces and forging a new reality has swelled. A moment is here.

The Spee decided to invite women to join. Some claim that the club "joins" the "21st Century." While I agree that accepting women into final clubs is certainly a productive step toward something, I don’t see multi-gender final clubs as inclusive. This small, long overdue step does not herald openness. It merely assimilates people of non-male genders into an organization that positions itself as “fun” by excluding.

The history of final clubs gives us no reason to believe that acceptance of women will change their overall dominating nature. The clubs’ extraordinary funding, influence, and the position of economic dominance held by club alums should offer plenty of reason to question the clubs’ commitment to social porousness they seem so eager to espouse in light of recent criticism.

Certainly Harvard itself is exclusive. However, comparisons between the exclusivity of Harvard and that of the clubs ignore Harvard’s purported commitment to creating education opportunity and improvement of society. Whether Harvard follows through on that promise is a debate for another day. The point stands that the clubs have made no such commitment or promise. They are mum on issues and oppressions of grave importance.

The clubs are profoundly dangerous spaces for many on this campus. Transformed, the buildings would become safer, allowing for debate and improvement. The clubs have an interest in maintaining their dominant position and history, and thus will never take active steps to create real, meaningful inclusion. This point resonates especially when one considers the fact that archaic alumni boards govern the clubs. Inclusion is not high on their list of priorities.

President Faust and Dean Khurana have staked out a very encouraging position, that “'nothing' is off the table” with reference to the final club situation. Legal experts believe dismantling the clubs is within Harvard’s immense power. Now that the conversation is swirling nationally and the pressure is on, I extend a challenge to President Faust and Dean Khurana: Do it. Dismantle them, and do it now. The clubs have survived thanks to inertia and apathy. Now that a political and historical moment has arisen that makes it feasible and defensible for Harvard to get rid of the clubs for good, President Faust and Dean Khurana must take advantage of it and eliminate this embarrassment as soon as possible. To do anything else would be negligence to Harvard College’s mission: to responsibly educate future leaders.

Jordan T. Weiers '16 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House.

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