LETTER: A Closer Look at Harvard's All-Male Final Clubs

Re: "Long Overdue"

To the editors:

Kudos to Daniel E. Herz-Roiphe for publishing “Long Overdue” (Apr. 15, 2010) on the gender division within Harvard’s social scene.  It is a topic that affects the life of almost every undergraduate, directly or indirectly, but has never been written about during my time at Harvard (and particularly, not by someone who is a member of an all-male final club himself). Although I am grateful that someone has initiated this debate, there are two points that ought to be given further consideration.

While Harvard’s social resources certainly give women short shrift—a point cleanly illustrated by the fact that eight females final clubs with multi-million dollar properties are unlikely to exist in the near future, the article inadvertently marginalizes women. Harvard women (or at least those whom I have had the privilege to meet) do not exist in a constant state of fear that they will be excluded; nor do they maintain friendships and/or initiate relationships, as Herz-Roiphe suggests, in order to stay on the guest list for upcoming parties. The very growth of women’s final clubs and sororities, as well as the rising numbers of elected female leaders, is a testament to the resilience of women’s organizations in the face of unequal resources.

The role of final club members also deserves a closer evaluation: The University has put unbelievable pressure on final clubs to function as campus-wide social venues, forcing their presidents to take on enormous personal liability and their members to shoulder the large financial burdens associated with hosting weekly social events. Physically, final clubs were not built to host campus-wide events that could accommodate the same number of students as House dining halls, the old Student Union (now the Barker Center) or even the old Hasty Pudding Theatre (now mainly classrooms). In this sense, the University has placed final clubs in an unreasonable position and increased the very exclusiveness that the school rightfully discourages. The possibility of “open” social events is impossible due to liability, cost, and space. By actively preventing other social alternatives, the University has empowered the very system of gender imbalance that it created and made institutions that were not intended to be a default social option to function as such.

Nonetheless, Herz-Roiphe is willing to confront a topic that so many avoid and makes a compelling point that the gender divide at Harvard ought to be re-evaluated and rectified. I simply hope that we do not victimize women or vilify final club members in conducting this debate.



Cambridge, Mass.

Apr. 28, 2010

Katherine C. Harris ’10 is a history concentrator in Pforzheimer House. She is a member of the Bee and the former president of the Hasty Pudding Club.