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Give a Hoot

By Jennifer L. Mnookin

UNDERGRADUATE COUNCIL Chairman Richard S. Eisert '88 showed poor judgment by joining the Owl Club, one of the all-male final clubs that were forced to sever ties with the University last year. First, Eisert's move reveals a narrow vision of the function of the Undergraduate Council and the role of its chairman. His decision is a symptom of all that is wrong with the council and with the way the community views it. Second, for the leader of the student government to identify himself with a sexist and elitist organization is an affirmation of values that we believe are anti-thetical to this community.

Actions like Eisert's are a comment on how the council misperceives its responsibilities and role in the community. The revelation of Eisert's new affiliation at the council meeting last Sunday was met with a complete lack of concern. As the sole elected, representative body of Harvard undergraduates, the council, and especially its leader, have an obligation to take an unambiguous stance against both the substance and symbols of anachronistic and offensive attitudes like sexism and elitism. At stake is the character of the Harvard community.

Is there not a shred of institutional memory about the council's role two years ago in forcing the final clubs off campus? The clubs are now private organizations, but they still engage in the the same offensive practices that led the council to urge the Committee on College Life to sever ties. For a student or a council representative, membership in a club is a private matter. But Eisert's identifying himself with sexist and elitist organizations contradicts his role as chairman, who must be able to speak for all undergraduates.

The damage Eisert has done his office is not only symbolic. Being a club member presents him with a serious conflict of interest. Final club members are instructed by their clubs not to talk to the press about anything relating to the clubs. What will Eisert do when he has to represent the student body, and not the clubs, on issues concerning both?

Eisert's membership in a final club is an insult to women undergraduates and to the 90 percent of the student body that the clubs deem unworthy of membership. Final clubs perpetrate an attitude that encourages members to treat the rest of the world as second class citizens--to make them enter the clubs through side doors, to bar them from certain rooms, to devalue and look down upon them.

Sexism at the final clubs is not limited to discriminating against women in choosing members. The clubs engage in traditions and practices that have resulted in a number of incidents of sexual harrassment. Whatever Eisert's private views, how can he represent the interests of students victimized by such activities if he has destroyed his public credibility on such issues?

Eisert ought to resign from the Owl Club and reaffirm to the community that he rejects what the final clubs stand for. The Undergraduate Council should censure Eisert for his decision to join a club and should publicly reaffirm its opposition to sexism and elitism in our community. If Eisert does not resign from the Owl Club, the council ought not to reelect him next semester.

We hope the silence at last weekend's council meeting was merely a sign of bureaucratic inertia. At issue is whether the council is anything more than a club that plays bureaucratic games and dispenses grants to students groups. Our criticism is motivated by the belief that it can and should be more. If council members are at all concerned about maintaining their credibility as the legitimate representatives of the entire student body, they will move as quickly as possible to distance themselves from Eisert's decision.

Dissenting Opinion

WE REGRET THAT THE UNDERGRADUATE COUNCIL chairman has given the Owl Club the respectability of his office, but we do not share the majority's outrage or incredulity. The lamentable truth is that Eisert's action offends few undergraduates. Pathetically, the community at large seems to have been seduced by the final club ethos.

The problem here is more subtle and pervasive than the majority acknowledges. The sad but revealing story of Eisert's final club affiliation tells us more about Harvard College today than it does about Eisert in particular. The story may yet have a happy ending if it causes undergraduates campuswide to take another close look at the clubs and revise their clouded thinking.

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