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Female Clubs Search for Space

By Elizabeth W. Green, Crimson Staff Writer

This semester, female social groups are once again without a room of their own.

In June, the Isis, a female final club, ended its lease on their one-bedroom Square apartment, which had been home to the group’s sleepovers, movie-watching and weekly lunches for more than a year.

The group became the first female social club to have its own space when it began leasing an apartment in a private house on Trowbridge Street, near the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Mount Auburn Street, in February 2002.

While all of the eight male final clubs are housed in historic Cambridge buildings, the female social clubs that have sprung up in the past decade have remained homeless, largely because of the high cost of real estate in the Square.

The Isis will now rejoin female social groups like the Seneca and the Bee in searching for a space to replace the apartment, which was too inconvenient for the group’s needs.

Finding enough money—and simply an available space—in the tight Square real estate market has been a mission for both the female social clubs and newer male social groups for the past five years.

The Seneca, founded in spring of 1999, was the first female social group at Harvard. By the spring of 2000, the group had initiated a capital campaign to raise the $1 million they felt was necessary to purchase a house.

The Seneca’s website currently calls getting space one of the group’s “most important goals”—but they’re still homeless.

“We support all women’s organizations in their pursuit of real estate,” Seneca President Shilla Kim-Parker ’04 wrote in an e-mail. “It is unfortunate that Isis lost their apartment, and we wish them all the best in the future.”

Kevin A. Platz, an apartment rental agent in Cambridge, said renting a one-bedroom apartment in the Square costs between $1,250 and $1,500 per month.

Now that the Isis isn’t forking over these sums every month, they will focus on saving up to find a better space that perhaps carries a higher price tag.

But for now, female social clubs will have to keep borrowing final club houses and renting space from restaurants and clubs for their events.

The Isis is holding its first punch event on Thursday in the Spee club at 76 Mount Auburn St.—which its invitation calls the “valley of the Kings.”

Members of women’s groups have long lamented the financial and networking advantages that the decades-old male final clubs have over the newer female clubs.

Ilana J. Sichel ’05, co-president of the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), said that while the end of Isis’ lease will not affect “99 percent of women at Harvard,” the space imbalance perpetuates gender inequality at the College.

“Men have had hundreds of years to acquire space, to acquire status,” Sichel said. “They’re lucky in that they have these opportunities, these spaces that their predecessors have carved out for them. And women just don’t.”

Sichel said RUS board members may soon hold a meeting with members of male final clubs to talk about how the lack of female social space affects women on campus.

“It’s a different feeling going to a space that is not yours and could never be yours because of something that is out of your control,” Sichel said. “Because of your gender, you can’t have a space that’s yours that’s not your bedroom, even if you wanted to.”

Members of RUS, including Sichel, have blamed the University for the imbalance between male and female social space. In the past, the group has advocated for the College to start a women’s center to combat the problem—and Sichel said the item is still on RUS’ agenda.

Despite the financial and organizational obstacles to starting a new social group, two female social clubs—Pleiades and the Sabliere Society—and one sorority have sprouted up in the past year, bringing the tally to five female social clubs and three sororities with Harvard-based chapters. There are also several other Boston area sororities that Harvard students can join.

“There is so much more to the college scene than sitting out in the cold knocking on the door of a final club and waiting for some sophomore to let you in,” Sabliere Society founder Angie J. Thebaud ’04 told The Crimson last year.

—Staff writer Elizabeth W. Green can be reached at egreen@fas.harvard.edu.

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