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Final Clubs: The Scapegoat on Campus

Since the day I stepped on campus a year ago, I have understood that two phrases are basically synonymous when it comes to talking about student life at Harvard: “final clubs” and “gender exclusion.” The idea that final clubs are the paradigm of gender exclusion is preached across campus. I have witnessed professors rant against the clubs as being the epitome of gender inequality, and Crimson writers deride final clubs and all they stand for.

There’s a problem, however, with the prevailing attitude on campus: by listening to the discourse, one would think that the only reason gender exclusivity still exists is because of final clubs. They are a scapegoat all problems of gender inequality are heaped upon, and their mere existence allows students to seek no further reason as to why or how gender problems are still present on campus. They are a dead end when it comes to talking about gender inclusivity at Harvard.

This is not to say that final clubs are not a huge factor in gender inequality on campus. They are. Ask attendees of final club parties about their nights, and they’ll tell you about the all-male club members hosting parties solely for dozens of females. Take a look at last spring’s Spee Club invitation to their “pajama party,” that included a link to a YouTube video featuring females in lingerie and an image entitled “Playbear,” and you’ll see that gender inequality is all too real.

But then take a step back. Zoom out on larger campus life. The Crimson has had five female presidents since 1990, and the last one served as president eight years ago. As we enter the school year, the presidents of many of the largest groups on campus are male. Men are still overrepresented in the fields of science and technology. This was highlighted in a Crimson article whose writers reported that while 18.8 percent of graduating males in the class of 2014 were pursuing engineering or technology, only 10.81 percent of females were entering these industries. Last year, Math 55a, known as being one of the hardest classes at Harvard, was all male.

And the problem is only augmented among faculty and top administrators. Of the senior faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the 2013-2014 academic year, women constituted only 24 percent. While the current President of Harvard University and Dean of Harvard Law School are women, the deans of Harvard College, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard Divinity School are all men. I see the clamor about final clubs on a weekly basis, but where are the never-ending articles, op-eds, or town hall meetings about the rest of these issues?

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It’s time to stop pointing fingers strictly at final clubs; it’s time to have a larger dialogue about the issue of gender exclusivity. The problem persists across campus, and in order to seriously address it, we must look beyond final clubs. We must question why certain concentrations are still dominated by males. We must look at our faculty and tenured professors and try to explain why women still constitute a minority. We must deal with the gender exclusivity that is present in our daily lives, and only then, should we turn to vilify final clubs.

In late April, a Tumblr blog entitled “Hey There Harvard, I’m In A Final Club” that listed the members of the male final clubs went viral. The site’s creators stated they compiled the list and posted it to elicit “discourse with [final club members] about inclusivity issues on this campus.” Anyone who thinks the problem is going to be solved, or even that the conversation is going to productively move forward, by hunting down final club members is sorely mistaken. Just because they are partly to blame does not mean everyone else is blameless.

If Harvard students want to legitimately address gender exclusivity, let’s start by looking at our own institution and at ourselves. Then, we can turn to the final clubs and demand that they be held accountable.

Rachel Huebner ’18 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Pforzheimer House.

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