Global Media Jumps on Porcellian Club Controversy

UPDATED: April 19, 2016, at 1:23 a.m.

When a leader from Harvard’s most reclusive final club spoke out publicly for the first time in decades, reporters across the globe jumped on the story.

Last week, Graduate President of the Porcellian Club Charles M. Storey ’82 issued a statement to The Crimson broadly criticizing the College’s pressure on the unrecognized final clubs to adopt gender neutral membership policies.

But what drew much attention from outside media outlets was one particularly controversial statement that suggested “[f]orcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.”

The morning after the news broke, the Washington Post ran its own version of the story, featuring an interview with the Fly Club’s graduate president and also detailing the history of Harvard’s traditionally all-male and exclusive social organizations. Soon to follow were the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and Mic, who interviewed U.S. Vice President Joseph R. Biden on the subject of Harvard’s final clubs.

After The Crimson reported on the statement, the Washington Post “tried to build [its story] around it to include more of the history of the club and make the issues more intelligible to general readers who might not even know what a final club is,” Justin Moyer, a Washington Post reporter who covered Storey's initial statement, wrote in an email.

Moyer added that Harvard’s prestige also made the controversy ripe for the national spotlight.

“Everyone is interested in Harvard,” he said.

Boston.com, an online outlet owned by Boston Globe Media, aggregated content from The Crimson and the Washington Post in order to turn around a story soon after.

“We also looked a little bit in the Boston Globe’s archives and they had stories about the Porcellian Club from the 1940s and 1930s, more for a good background than anything else,” Eric Levenson, one of the website’s writers, said.

The Wall Street Journal editorial staff criticized Harvard administrators for attempting to curb final clubs’ influence. In their staff editorial, the paper cited a meeting Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana held with final club leaders in which he floated the possibility of issuing a sanction against undergraduates involved in clubs. The editorial called such a measure a “political purge,” and condemned administrators for banning “students from governing their own social lives.”

When asked for comment, Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal’s deputy editorial page editor, wrote, “[t]he editorial speaks for itself.”

In September, the Spee drew attention from national media outlets after the club chose to invite women to participate in its punch process, becoming the first of eight traditionally all-male final clubs to consider women. The Fox, another final club, also drew attention after its graduate board shut down the club weeks after the club’s undergraduate leaders invited women to punch.

Like previous stories on the Spee and the Fox, the Porcellian Club story attracted media interest in part because it involved issues of sexual assault and an exclusive college social organization—topics under scrutiny at other college campuses.

“It touches on a lot of issues college campuses are dealing with and many liberal educators are dealing with,” Levenson said. “‘Secretive Exclusive Group Breaks Silence to Talk About Sexual Assault’—every word in that headline makes you go ‘oh my god, that’s a story.’”

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at ignacio.sabate@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.

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