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The Inter-Club Graduate Council of the Harvard final clubs took a brave and necessary step this summer by banning beer kegs at all club buildings and restricting club guest policies. In making the clubs more exclusive, the council is rightly returning them to the days when they were "gentlemen's" clubs and, we hope, pushing them into a gentle obscurity thoroughly removed from the Harvard social scene and leading to their eventual disappearance altogether.
As it stands, most of the clubs are little different from fraternities. They host parties replete with free alcohol; they provide opportunities for members to meet women; and they "punch" members in a process reminiscent of fraternity rush. They provide Harvard students--that is, those who are admitted--with an alternative to the social life of the College proper.
And that is where we take issue with them. Final clubs currently serve as little more than function space for half the College to pass through on any given weekend. Final clubs that admitted only their members and a few select guests would be one thing; although the clubs are blatantly discriminatory in that they refuse to admit women and even require women, in many cases, to enter through side doors, at least the clubs would not then comprise a significant part of the College. Social organizations such as the current final clubs, however, are divisive. They directly compete with the social life in the houses, which, while not always stellar, is without question the glue that holds Harvard together.
Many students come to Harvard precisely so they can escape the pull of fraternities as a compelling option on Friday and Saturday nights. They disliked fraternities' exclusivity and undue emphasis on alcohol and partying. They liked the idea that president A. Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, had of creating small colleges within the college, complete with intellectual and social lives of their own. Once at Harvard, they enjoyed the camaraderie their house provided. But now, they might as well have gone to Cornell or U. Penn.
For Harvard to maintain a name for itself as a school without exclusive clubs that dominate its social scene, the graduate boards must make sure that the new restrictions are followed. No kegs may mean that students will drink more hard liquor, but at least it will discourage free-for-all slurping. The guest policy that limits each club member to two registered guests at all times except parties, requires the club's graduate board president to approve all parties and holds members responsible for the safety of their visitors keeps the number of students in the clubs at any time a small proportion of the College population. We urge the graduate boards to drop by more than periodically to make sure club members are following their mandates.
On a side note, the College's involvement with the graduate boards makes us nervous. Although Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III seems to involve himself in these discussions in order to lessen the impact of the final clubs, we worry that his high profile in the negotiations lends an air of College support to the clubs themselves.
But if the result of the administration's maneuvering is that final clubs become merely of footnote to Harvard's social life, we support it, as we would any means to push them from the limelight. The time has come for the final clubs to withdraw into themselves and stop pulling the rest of the Harvard community into their discriminatory havens.
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