Opening Their Doors

I live in the shadow of the Fly. The final club's red-brick edifice stands within feet of the entrance to Lowell House, which I pass through to start and end each day, and many times in between. On a sunny spring day, the breeze stirs the sheer curtains through open windows. At night, the low, rhythmic beat of the bass from music at the Fly resonates softly through my room on Lowell's lower courtyard.

En route to Christy's for late-night nourishment, I pass the Phoenix, the Spee and the Fox. As I stride to class in Harvard Yard, the spare change lady beseeches me from the doorway of the Porcellian.

The ubiquitous presence of the final clubs in my life is no different from the role they play in every other Harvard student's life--with one exception. For me, and almost half of my fellow undergraduates, the final clubs stand as the last bastion of sexual discrimination.

On our campus, equality is a byword, a goal that no one disputes. On our campus equality is often than not a fact. It has been decades since Radcliffe women began attending class with Harvard men. It has been more than twenty years since women left Radcliffe Quadrangle and joined men in the Houses. Now even Radcliffe College itself is disappearing.

But in the midst of our campus sit the final clubs, where women are welcome, if at all, only as sexual objects. On special occasions, females may enter as guests for the evening (only the Porcellian excludes all non-members, male and female alike). On balmy days when windows are open, I may even sneak a glimpse of the forbidden upstairs rooms.

Yet as a woman, I am prohibited from ever becoming a member of any of the final clubs-from ever holding the same status as men in Harvard's social scene. As private clubs, these traditional establishments have every right to use their own processes for winnowing the number of members they accept. But, on a campus that preaches and for the most part practices equality, they cannot be permitted to bar almost half of Harvard's students from applying for membership in the first place.

Ironically the clubs' discrimination against women may not be illegal. The clubs. we are told, are not officially part of Harvard.

But the exclusion of women from membership in final clubs is contrary to what every Harvard student learns each day. The technicality that separates the final clubs from Harvard affiliation is just that--a technicality in a world where we learn that it is substance that makes the difference.

The clubs are an integral part of the University's life and that of a significant fraction of its student body, but only a male fraction.

The exclusion of women is, in this context, immoral and unacceptable. Many women say they would never want to join a final club. Instead, they simply want the clubs abolished--a natural reaction by those who are barred. Many others, especially members of the final clubs, simply accept the clubs' exclusionary system with little question.

But the answer is not to abolish these venerable institutions, which own some of the choicest buildings, situated on some of the choicest sites, around the Harvard campus. The answer, in my view, is for the final clubs voluntarily to open their membership rolls to Harvard women. Among a student body that by its own admission spends little time socializing, the final clubs bring together a cross section of students for relaxation in the small groups the clubs can accommodate. The clubs have access to financing beyond most other student groups. They have the inclination to organize weekend entertainment and facilities that are virtually without equal on campus. Although the parties at these clubs are notorious for the way in which women are viewed as objects and sometimes even mistreated, the Animal House approach would certainly change if women were members as well.

In addition, the alumni of the final clubs are a key asset to members. The alumni networks can offer members not only financial help but an extended family of Harvard graduates to counsel them and occasionally act as mentors in ways which no other organization can match.

Putting an end to the exclusion of women would also benefit the clubs. Female members would broaden the social and intellectual horizons of members, not because they are brighter but simply because they are different. And there must be some men among the final clubs' members who, at least secretly, deplore their club's discrimination in membership men who have learned the lessons Harvard teaches--and these men could set their scruples at ease by admitting women.

By accepting women as members, the final clubs will demonstrate that they are in touch with the moral dictates of American society today. I believe it is only a matter of time before the final clubs will admit women into their ranks. They can open their doors of their own volition or hesitate until some yet unforeseen from of coercion accomplishes that for them. It is only a matter of time before women may actually welcome the opportunity to join. They can adapt quickly to a world where they are welcomed instead of barred. If it is only a matter of time--as it certainly is--why not let the time be now? Jenny E. Heller'01, a Crimson editor, is a Romance languages and literatures concentrator in Lowell House

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