Trading Spaces

The Isis Club’s acquisition of social space is a sign of progress

Weekend nights at Harvard see women and men flocking to room parties, student organization events, and of course, the ubiquitous final club mansions that line Mt. Auburn Street. These houses are the axis mundi of Harvard’s social scene, and have recently become slightly more gender-equal.

In January, the President of the Isis Club—one of the two female final clubs on campus—announced that the social organization had finalized an agreement with the Owl Club—one of the eight male final clubs—to rent space inside the Owl’s building at 30 Holyoke Street. The Isis is not the first female final club to come into property; just a block or two down Mt. Auburn Street, the Bee Club continues to lease a house from the nearby Fly Club.

This business agreement marks a positive step for Harvard’s social scene. A major problem that has long plagued weekend nights at Harvard is the gendered nature of available social space. All of the eight male final clubs own property, whereas the two female clubs have only recently come into such possession (and even then, it is of limited use). Since the males’ Mt. Auburn mansions are prime locations for undergraduates to procure liquor and dance to the latest techno single, boys’ rules go. This places an uneven level of control in the hands of the final clubs’ male members—socially anxious stiletto-clad girls forge friendships with an arbitrary group of polo-clad boys so that they might gain entrance across the threshold of the Spee Club one or another Friday night. Because women’s clubs often hold their parties and punch events in male clubs, even members of female final clubs find themselves relying on their male counterparts for a good time.

Essentially, the nature of final clubs in the Harvard landscape remains profoundly sexist. It is a problem that few of our institutional peers share: Yale’s secret societies and Princeton’s eating clubs are now co-ed. The situation at Harvard marks a terrible and regressive tune in an academic institution that otherwise strives for progressivism.

Unfortunately, correcting this problem seems to be a futile hope. Even in scenarios in which members of male final clubs hope to make their organizations co-ed, stumbling blocks like grad boards (bodies of club graduates who oversee club activities and finances) impede this process. In 1984, the College severed all ties with final clubs. Since the clubs (specifically the male final clubs) are completely independent from the College, there is no means to force gender equality institutionally.

Harvard’s social pandemic of institutionalized sexism is unfortunate and unfair. We hope that the Isis’s possession of some space of its own will help to alleviate this lingering inequality.