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A website containing an archive of internal e-mails, publicly
accessible until it was discovered by The Crimson late last week,
provides a rare glimpse into the secretive Harvard final club scene—and
a portrait of a five-year-old all-female club struggling to find a
place within it.
The e-mails, which contained details about the day-to-day operations of the Isis Club, were posted on a website that was publicly available because club officers apparently failed to activate a setting that would have closed it to non-members, according to Matthew A. Gline ’06, president of the Harvard Computer Society (HCS), which hosts the e-mail list.
In e-mail exchanges that were compiled on the website, the club members posted judgments about females seeking entrance, disclosed their decision to enact an informal détente with the all-female Bee Club, and revealed their reliance on male clubs for social space.
The e-mails also reveal that the Isis Club, formed in 2000, is beginning to forge an alumnae network that may give a boost to members seeking high-powered business jobs.
The archive also suggests that even the highest-ranking Isis officer is uncomfortable with some elements of the “punch” process, in which the club selects its new members.
“These meetings always leave a sickening feeling in the pit of our stomachs,” Isis President Alissa M. Gordon ’06 wrote at 3:15 a.m. last Wednesday morning, after club members convened in the Kirkland L Seminar Room to vote on the second round of punch cuts.
“We just spent 6 hours talking about people and that is never fun or nice,” Gordon wrote, “but I want to say, that I think we all handled tonight with poise and grace and consciousness of the comfort and identity of our club.”
Gordon declined to comment for this article, and more than a dozen other club members declined to comment as well.
The Isis Club has maintained its e-mail archive for more than five-and-a-half months on the HCS website, during which time the correspondence could be accessed by internet users on- or off-campus.
The Crimson has chosen to preserve the privacy of the club’s “punches”—the female undergraduates who are seeking admission—by withholding their identities.
‘A LITTLE TOO VANILLA’
Over the past few weeks, the Isis Club has compiled a detailed electronic “punch book” in which members evaluated potential inductees. The comments in the punch book appear to illuminate the criteria that particular Isis members apply when evaluating prospective members—but do not reveal which of the applicants actually will be offered admission. The archives accessed by The Crimson do not contain a record of the in-person discussions held by club members as they pared their punch class down.
Isis members sent their evaluations of punches to a Gmail account. Isis punchmaster Aimee C. Dobrowski ’07 sent a compilation of the mostly anonymous comments over the club e-mail list last Tuesday afternoon.
Most of the comments in the punch book assess the potential members’ social skills and enthusiasm for the club. The Isis members who posted comments appear to prize punches who are “cute” and “classy”—and who can balance an array of extracurricular commitments.
“Despite bein’ a busy [redacted]-player fiend, she’s really into stuff going on around campus,” the punch book entry about one junior reads.
The entries also indicate that Isis Club members are seeking inductees who can add “variety” and “flavor” to their organization.
A gushing entry about one sophomore reads, “I am a little seduced by her punk rock vibe.”
An entry about a junior dismisses her as “a little too vanilla.”
On the other hand, one Isis member wrote about a sophomore punch, “Basically, if we cut [redacted], I will die.”
And the negative comments in the punch book mostly criticize potential members’ lack of social grace.
“Incredibly grating. She leeched onto me at the beginning,” the entry about one sophomore reads.
The punch book includes only a handful of remarks about potential members’ intelligence or academic skills—and just a few passing references to potential members’ physical appearance.
The punch book rarely contains biting attacks against potential members, although one entry criticizes a sophomore punch who apparently “hooked up” with another woman’s date at an event.
“CHEATERS = BAD,” the entry reads.
An entry about a junior punch says, “It has crossed my mind that she only wants to get into the club to have a social in with members of the guys clubs.”
And an entry about a sophomore punch reads, “We need to cut her, omigod now...felt like I was talking to a weird Bette Midler character in a movie.”
‘WORTH FIGHTING FOR’
The punch book comments reflect an acute awareness of the Isis Club’s competition with its older counterpart, the all-female Bee Club.
The Bee Club was founded in 1981, and the Isis Club was formed 19 years later, according to an ethnographic senior thesis submitted this past spring by women, gender, and sexuality studies concentrator Alicia Menendez ’05, the former Bee president.
The two all-female organizations join eight male final clubs—the oldest of which, the Porcellian Club, was founded in 1791.
The University severed all official ties to the final clubs in 1984.
About one sophomore, the punch book reads, “She may be a Bee type, but *definitely* worth fighting for.”
But the e-mail archive reflects the existence of an informal détente between the Isis and Bee clubs.
“Do not, under any circumstances, say anything negative or pejorative regarding the Bee club, its members, its building, or anything else,” the Isis secretary, Molly M. Faulkner-Bond ’06, wrote in an Oct. 2 e-mail. “Feel free to empathize with girls who are on the fence between clubs, but do NOT attempt to dissuade them from the Bee *except* by gushing (truthfully) about how fantastic Isis is and how much it enriches its members lives. :-)”
A sophomore who is punching both female final clubs said that Bee members told her their club was using a house owned by an all-male final club, the Fly. The sophomore spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want to jeopardize her prospects of gaining admission into either organization.
The president of the Bee Club, Annie S. Day ’06, declined to comment for this story.
‘YOU BOOZE YOU WIN’
Day’s predecessor, Menendez, wrote in her thesis that—as of last spring—neither female final club owned a house. All eight male final clubs hold properties in the Harvard Square area.
According to Menendez’s thesis, the female clubs hold many of their events at the male clubs’ houses, so “the potential for all-female bonding is limited.”
The Isis archive seems to provide further evidence of the female club’s reliance on its male counterparts for social space. For instance, in addition to punch events at two male final clubs, the A.D. and the Phoenix, an e-mail indicated that an Isis member would hold her 21st birthday party at the Delphic “from 10:30 until you stop remembering.”
The e-mail inviting Isis members to the birthday party reads–in giant letters–“YOU BOOZE YOU WIN.”
According to the e-mail, the party would include a three-story beer funnel in the Delphic’s courtyard.
While the central role of alcohol in male final club events is well-known—and mentioned several times in Menendez’s thesis—the Isis archive suggests that heavy alcohol consumption is common among members of the female club as well.
For example, a junior Isis officer wrote on Saturday, Sept. 24 that her evening plans were to visit two male final clubs and then “to bring my inebriated butt” to a pair of Cambridge bars.
Another junior officer wrote on Friday, Sept. 30 that the club would sponsor an open bar the following night at Phatt Boys on Church Street.
“By ‘open bar’ I mean we will be having a $300 tab running and only Isis ladies will be allowed to access it,” the officer wrote.
And a punch book entry about one sophomore reads, “I’m interested to see how she does in a more ‘party’ (read: boozefest) setting.”
‘IT’S WORTH IT!’
The archive provides a snapshot of the financial burden that comes with final club membership.
The Isis Club charged its members dues of $300 in late September, according to a Sept. 23 e-mail from the Isis treasurer, Arin M. Keyser ’06.
And according to an Oct. 2 e-mail from Faulkner-Bond, members who miss a punch event—“or a significant portion of one”—must pay a fine of $25.
The e-mail archive contained no references to the possibility of financial aid.
But the archive reflected some members’ concerns that two planned Isis trips during the punch season could prove to be too expensive for the club’s less-wealthy members.
Isis members who want to participate in the planned trip to New York City must pay $60 out-of-pocket, according to an Oct. 17 e-mail from Gordon.
“Hey, if you can pay $60 for a great dinner and a night of spectacularness as a VIP at a great club, it’s worth it!” Gordon wrote.
And the e-mails suggest that Isis members may have to pay their own airfares for a planned trip to a junior member’s home in Miami.
Gordon’s Oct. 17 e-mail sought to allay members’ concerns about the two trips.
She wrote that “the trips don’t reflect the core values of the club,” adding that “we ARE BY NO MEANS trying to adopt a more elaborate and obnoxiously showy image.”
But in an Oct. 19 e-mail, Isis member Lauren N. Westbrook ’07 wrote, “From a financial standpoint and from an exclusion standpoint, I really feel uncomfortable about the idea of taking select girls on a trip.”
The e-mails also seem to confirm the widespread impression that final club members tap into a network of alumni contacts in the post-graduation job-hunting process.
“At each club, alumni are accessible to the undergraduates both as friends and as professional resources,” Menendez wrote.
For example, in a Sept. 23 e-mail to the Isis list, an alumna who now works at investment bank UBS wrote that she would “love to have any Isis chicas by the office in NY if you want me to introduce you to people and make sure that you get an interview.”
THE PUNCH PROCESS
The Isis punch process began with a casual-dress afternoon affair on Saturday, Oct. 8, at the headquarters of the A.D., according to the e-mails.
The e-mails indicate that about 150 women received invitations to the Oct. 8 event.
During the next two weeks, club members met over meals and coffee at local restaurants and House dining halls. About 80 undergraduates received invitations to the second punch event, a semi-formal cocktail party at the Phoenix on the evening of Oct. 17, according to e-mails.
As of Wednesday evening, the club had winnowed its list of punches down to about 60, according to e-mails.
The e-mails indicate that punches received an invitation to an event called “Beer Olympics” at the Delphic Club this past Friday evening.
The punches will be asked to bring dates to the Felt Nightclub and Lounge on Washington Street in downtown Boston tomorrow night at 10 p.m., according to the e-mails.
According to the e-mails, 30 to 32 of the women will be invited back for a dinner on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at the Delphic.
An Oct. 2 e-mail from Faulkner-Bond describes a planned scavenger hunt to precede the dinner, including “clue cards [and] limos.” According to an Oct. 2 e-mail by Isis punchmaster Stephanie T. Chevalier ’07, “the scavenger hunt preceding final dinner is 100% Confidential and should be kept top secret.”
About 25 women will be offered membership in the Isis Club early next month, according to a “loose estimate” in an e-mail from Faulkner-Bond.
“Obviously, these numbers are idealized, and we will never turn away a girl whom everyone loves simply for the sake of meeting a quota,” she wrote on Oct. 2. (Please see e-mails below.)
The club must approve each new member by a two-thirds majority, according to the e-mails. But any single Isis member can veto a punch with a “‘black ball’ in the final round,” according to the e-mails.
That veto cannot be overridden.
The Isis Club’s decision to compile its punch book online contrasts starkly with many other final clubs’ practices.
For example, the Porcellian destroys its punch book “for everyone’s benefit,” according to a member of the organization who asked not to be identified because of the club’s strict policy of secrecy.
Another male final club, the Spee, burns its punch book each year as part of a cleansing ritual, according to a member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Crimson has printed contents of final club records at least once before: in March 1994, the paper obtained the Porcellian punch book from the previous fall.
At least one senior Isis member recognized that if the punch book was accessible to the public—as it was until late last week—the contents could be hurtful to the women seeking admission to the club.
The Isis vice president, Carol G. Cavanagh ’06, wrote in an Oct. 18 e-mail, “clearly this goes without saying, but once you read the punchbook comments you must PERMANENTLY DELETE them from your inboxes.”
Cavanagh’s e-mail continued, “this is the most confidential part of our punch process (and our club), and our punches are not even supposed to know that such a thing exists (nor are non-members). Imagine how horrible it would be if this were sitting in your inbox, even months from now, and by accident some non-member (or punch) ever saw it.”
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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