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Ay, There’s the Club

Learning to reject the notion that elitist associations make you cool

By Sarah M. Seltzer, POP AND FIZZ

When I was six or so, my friends and I started a club. It was called the “Best of Friends Club for Kids,” (BFCK for those who were in the know) and it met in the guest bedroom. Its principal activity was “Crayola fashion design.” It made us feel special and very, very cool.

Today at Harvard, many male students meet behind the doors of their less cumbersomely-named clubs on Mt. Auburn street. Their principal activities are drinking, partying, and chasing skirt. It makes them feel special and very, very cool.

Even though my own stint as founder of an exclusive club should give me some sympathy towards these guys (a few of whom I even consider good friends), I’m afraid I don’t have much. I’ve spent four years at Harvard watching final clubs make non-members feel inferior. It bothers me.

As we all know, final clubs are throwbacks to an era of racism, sexism, and class elitism at Harvard. But this is made even worse by these clubs’ appropriation of what is hot at Harvard. Guys in final clubs are considered it by a large portion of this student body—at our own expense.

We may go out to hipster bars in Central Square; we may have organized a kick-ass fundraiser for an amazing cause. We may have a sizzling wardrobe or mix a mean martini. We may have people knocking on our doors every Saturday night looking for a good time. We may be amazing in a million different ways. But because we don’t hold the key to a mansion, we’re robbed of the status we deserve. It smacks of a different century.

I’ll willingly confess that my younger self had a bit of a fascination with the clubs. I was intrigued with what I couldn’t see, and at the way my girlfriends would wait outside eagerly. I even ventured in a few times. It was always just another Harvard party. Often I saw behavior that made me uncomfortable: a member telling a non-member guy to “get the f*ck out of my club” or members prowling the dance floor and sizing up the attributes of the females in the room.

It dawned on me early that that sort of scene just isn’t my definition of hip. And I realized something deeper. Being cool is just about believing you are. That’s why the labels that come with those clubs are so important to their members and hangers-on. It’s a way of saying “I belong somewhere. I have friends. I have a social life. Hey, look at me! I matter.”

Final clubbers have it easy. They tap into their club’s trust fund and open the doors to their mansion to a selective guest list. Then they’ve got a (supposedly) killer bash—and most importantly, an identity. As for the guests, they let their friends or boyfriends have a direct position of power over them. Fall out with one member, fall out with all, right? The label (and the late-night parties) are so important to people that they put up with all sorts of indignities—even the threat of sexual violence or at the least, big-time regrets—to experience it. It’s a shame.

My realization about the clubs was confirmed one Saturday afternoon my sophomore Spring. A group of friends and I had spent the day in JFK park; the air grew cooler and we headed back to Lowell. As we passed the Fly, we noticed a bunch of collegians in seersucker and pastel, ready for the 1920’s themed “garden party.” Outside the club stretched a red velvet rope.

Without any planning, the whole lot of us burst into laughter. In a few hours, we’d forgotten that this kind of charade existed. The students standing outside the Fly started looking uncomfortable and sort of surprised.

Every time I see someone going in or out of a club, I want to reenact that scene—not to cause a big fuss, but to good-humoredly let those boys know that I don’t think their club is awesome. In fact, I think it’s silly (as well as potentially insidious). But I never get up the guts. I don’t want to be mean, and why should I even bother?

And then I think, but what if I had a crowd behind me?

And therein lies my solution to the final club problem; gentle but firm social punishment. If you are part of the silent majority that hates final clubs, speak up—loudly but not cruelly. When you see members congregated in front of their mansions, look at them like the anachronism they are. Make like the anarchists did recently and express yourself through chalk drawings on their driveways (“This club is elitist” for instance). Refuse to be a date for a punch event. Stand in front of a music-blasting club at 3am with 50 of your closest friends and steal their tunes for an impromptu dance party. Laugh at them. When a section-mate says “I’m going to the Spee” with pride, roll your eyes and say, “Oh wow, aren’t you special?”

And remind Club members and their entourages that they don’t need a club to be cool—all they need is a little self-respect.

Sarah M. Seltzer ’05 is an English concentrator in Lowell House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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