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To Thine Own Self Be True

By Christina S. Lewis

No matter how much Yale tries, it will never be able to become Harvard. Hence the institution's endemic unhappiness. What someone needs to explain to the Elis is that contentment lies in accepting yourself, your strengths and limitations. Yale has a better exam schedule, a more lax alcohol policy and is closer to New York City. It's when Yale pretends that New Haven is actually a nice place to live, or that its Af-Am studies department is equal to ours, that it gets into trouble.

Similarly, final clubs need to stop trying to become the social centers of campus. These elitist secret societies will never be able to become central to Harvard life. They are exclusive organizations in an inclusive environment. Final clubs throwing house parties are like the Wicked Witch of the West trying to win Miss Congeniality. It's like Homer Simpson trying to lose weight. Or pre-meds trying to pretend they have a life--the shoe simply doesn't fit. And when you try to be something you're not, you usually end up failing, comically.

And that is what happened to the clubs last weekend, when their pathetic social scene was one-upped by a campus-wide party organized by a group of women. Ironically, the very group the clubs exclude has beaten them at their own game.

The Red Party (red clothing was not required, merely encouraged--the Seneca avoided all kind of exclusion), held at the Aria club, was quite simply the best Harvard party I have ever attended. The $10 ticket led to a flowing open bar and an equal number of guys and girls (a ratio I never thought I'd see again). But more than flowing beer, the party demonstrated one of the reasons Harvard is such a great place--its diversity. The Red Party exemplified the term "melting pot."

Party-goers cut up the dance floor in ratty red t-shirts or recently bought Jasmine Sola tops. The D.J. played hip-hop and techno. Typical final club types sat next to people who couldn't get tickets to the Owl Luau. And the deciding factor on who was admitted to the party was not gender (male non-members are not allowed into many final club parties) or a guest list or the amount of makeup we were wearing, but whether we had a ticket. Ladies and gentlemen, the era of social equality has arrived at Harvard's social scene. The only question is, why didn't it arrive sooner?

Why don't final clubs throw open parties like those of the Seneca or the fraternities at other schools? They have the financial means. In fact, the night was organized by Nick J. Saunders '99, the former president of the Phoenix Club.

The fact is, final clubs are selfish. They have the opportunity to contribute positively to Harvard society, yet they squander it because of an uneasy suspicion that exclusivity is the only thing that makes them desirable. Secretly, members of secret societies have inferiority complexes.

The argument is that if the societies begin letting all boys into their parties, they'll drink all the members' beer, steal all the members' girls and won't want to punch in the fall because they're essentially getting the "milk" for free. Even though final club members are cool at Harvard, they were dorks in high school just like the rest of us. Each clubhouse represents for them a guarantee of lifelong popularity. The humiliations of high school remain a memory, since girls flock to the only parties that definitely won't close at 12:45. Final club members live in fear that their precious edge on the competition will be dulled if they throw open parties.

What they've forgotten is that the advantage of a final club never lay in its ability to make you popular. Today, they have become the Harvard man's passport to a social life. But the societies' principal purpose was to provide its members with good company and a good meal. The Porcellian was founded in 1791 by a group of friends who decided they wanted to eat roast pig together every month.

The problem arose when the clubs decided half-heartedly to transform themselves. They gave up their secrecy and a lot of their bigotry. The Porcellian admitted its first Jewish member in the mid-70's and the Fox had a black president in the early 80's. But they refused to admit women, as did their counterpart Yale society, the Skull and Bones (of which George W. is a member). Currently, they exist as an unholy cross between fraternity and secret society.

The clubs need to decide where exactly their future lies before their prestige is eroded completely. And while they're evaluating themselves, open parties sponsored by the Seneca and other organizations will become the mainstay of Harvard's social scene. Hopefully, by the time final clubs figure things out their niche in Harvard social circles will have been filled by more inclusive institutions. I toast the Seneca.

Christina S. Lewis '02 is a history and literature concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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