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Advertising “free” women at a spring dance has now placed Mather’s House Committee at the center of controversy for the second year in a row.
Many Mather House residents said they were dismayed by signs posted over the last week to promote this Saturday’s Mather “Lather” dance party. “Pre-Frosh Girls Free,” the signs boasted in bold letters, with the words “just kidding” written in parentheses in a small font underneath.
The signs sparked a debate reminiscent of the one surrounding last spring’s Mather “Decadenza,” which was publicized with signs advertising, “Freshman Girls Free.”
But while first-year women were admitted free-of-charge to Decadenza, pre-frosh women will have to pay for their tickets.
Several Mather residents complained that this years’ advertisements were demeaning and harmful towards women and would even discourage pre-frosh students from choosing to enroll at Harvard, while others insisted that the posters were a joke and should not be treated seriously.
However, while last April’s Decadenza posters sparked a string of more than 50 e-mails on the House open list and an apology from then-HoCo Co-Chair Angie Sun ’03—who said the HoCo was only trying to attract first-year students to the dance—this year’s debate has received less attention, with only 15 e-mails on the House open list.
Matherite Amelia A. Showalter ’05 started the e-mail discussion Monday evening after seeing the “Pre-Frosh Girls Free” posters in her Women’s Studies 131 course. She said that several students brought the posters to class to criticize them.
“Unsurprisingly, everybody in class thought the poster was degrading and really reinforced the concept of Harvard as a boys’ club,” Showalter said, adding that she thought the “just kidding” phrase on the posters was too small for most to see and that the advertisement implied that “there will be lots of young girls for the benefit of older College men.”
Showalter also said that the signs might offend the gay community because they “denoted a straight atmosphere and are exclusive to the sizeable gay population of Harvard and Mather.”
But HoCo Chair Zachary A Corker ’04 said that the signs were intended as a joke and were meant to make fun of last year’s policy of letting first-year female students into Decadenza for free.
“It’s really a self-parody of the Mather HoCo,” he said.According to Corker, the poster was part of a huge advertising effort designed with the goal of encouraging as many as 1,000 students to attend the party.
Corker said that the Mather HoCo tried to recruit House members to do a special poster run to take down the offending publicity yesterday morning, but no one showed up. He said that HoCo will take down the controversial signs when it re-posters this morning.
Several students said that because they thought the signs were degrading towards women, they had decided not to attend Mather Lather.
“I’d seen a lot of posters for the Lather party in general before this week and thought it looked pretty interesting, but when I saw the pre-frosh girls poster yesterday I decided not to go,” said Alisha C. Johnson ’04, who is also a member of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence.
Several students also wrote e-mails on the open list arguing that the posters would discourage pre-frosh students visiting Harvard this weekend from choosing to enroll in the College, claiming that “the little things” students see during their college visits play a large role in the decisions they make.
“I was undecided for a long time between Harvard and Stanford, then I pre-froshed at Stanford and their giant tree mascot chased me down the street yelling at me,” Jennifer L. Imamura ’03 wrote in an e-mail. “It was a small thing, but it definitely helped me make my decision to choose Harvard.”
Imamura added that she did not know whether the posters would have any real effects, but said that “it’s not worth the risk.”
Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 wrote in an e-mail that even though he thought the poster was in bad taste and might offend some students or parents, he did not think it would affect the yield for the Class of 2007.
“Students admitted to Harvard College are too intelligent and discerning to base their decision on such a small thing,” he wrote.
Gisele M. Morey ’04, a Mather resident who said she often attends HoCo meetings and came up with the idea for the Lather party, said that the posters “unintentionally resurrected an issue that HoCo thought was dead from last year.”
“It was an oversight on the part of the committee, but they’ve made efforts to take the signs down and at the end I hope everyone will want to come to the party,” she said.
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