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UPDATED: October 26, 2015, at 2:41 a.m.
The Fox Club, one of Harvard’s eight male final clubs, has accepted a group of junior and senior women into its membership, making it the second of the off-campus social organizations this fall to move to go co-ed.
An email message carrying the subject line “The Future of the Fox Club” and obtained by The Crimson early Sunday morning told prospective members of the club that a “group” of women had joined its membership and that it intended to “transition to a fully co-ed club over the next year.”
“Earlier this year, after much discussion and deliberation, the undergraduate members of the Fox Club decided to open our membership to women,” said the message, signed by the “President and Members of the Fox Club” and sent from the email account firstname.lastname@example.org. “A group of junior and senior women have accepted an offer of membership and, in their capacity as members, will be advising our transition to a fully co-ed club over the next year.”
Several current undergraduate officers of the Fox, which was founded in 1898 and is located at 44 John F. Kennedy St., could not be immediately be reached for comment early Sunday morning.
The Fox’s move comes six weeks after the Spee Club, another male final club based on Mount Auburn Street, voted to invite women to participate in its punch process, an annual rite in which the groups put prospective members up for entry each fall. It is unclear whether the Spee has formally admitted any women into its membership; the punch process is ongoing.
The Spee’s decision, which attracted national media attention and drew praise from administrators, came on the heels of mounting scrutiny of the final clubs, which have been officially unrecognized by Harvard since 1984, when they chose to sever ties with the University rather than admit women.
Top administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust, have recently criticized the all-male organizations on grounds of gender exclusivity and the potential for alcohol abuse and sexual assault to occur on their off-campus properties. In the face of this scrutiny, many clubs have gone quiet; last spring, the Fox decided to tighten its membership rules, reinforcing a no-guest policy.
“The College continues to support the idea that…single-gendered organizations are not appropriate for the College,” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said earlier this year.
The Fox’s decision to add women to its membership also follows previous attempts by undergraduate members to persuade their graduate board counterparts to change the club’s gender makeup. Reverend Douglas W. Sears ’69, the president of the Fox’s graduate board, did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday, but he said last year that conversations over the club going co-ed were not new.
At that time, Sears said the Fox had no plans to admit women anytime in the near future. When one undergraduate club member was leading a move for the Fox to invite women to participate in the punch process in fall 2014, Sears directed him to write a position paper on the proposal’s implications and potential outcomes.
“The undergraduates of the Fox Club can vote on whatever they want to, but that doesn’t necessarily leave anything other than expressed opinion,” Sears said.
It remains unclear whether the Fox’s graduate board has approved the club’s move to add women to its membership. Hugh M. Nesbit ’77, the chair of the club’s board of directors, also did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
In a post on his personal Facebook page, though, Sears acknowledged the club’s move to go co-ed. Sharing an earlier version of this Crimson news story on the change, Sears wrote that unlike other male final clubs that he said have considered merging with female social organizations—there are five all-female final clubs at the College—the Fox “has elected women as members who will help the club's transition to full gender equity over the next three years.”
Students and others on campus also reacted to the news on Sunday. In an email, Khurana wrote that College administrators are “delighted that the student leaders at the Fox and their alumni have taken this important step.”
At least one student who has been critical of male final clubs, meanwhile, also said the Fox’s move represents a positive step. “It’s really exciting to see some students who are becoming self-critical because of the public challenges,” Brianna J. Suslovic ’16 said. “It’s clearly not a bad thing that these clubs are going co-ed.”
Still, Suslovic, who co-authored a Crimson op-ed earlier this year advocating the dismantling of final clubs, said club leaders should host open conversations about how the organizations will operate differently. She added that administrators and students should host additional discussions about inclusive social spaces on campus, irrespective of a final club’s decision to admit women.
Recently, in response to student complaints about the state of the on-campus social scene, administrators have pumped more funding into large undergraduate social events, and some upperclassman Houses recently opened new party spaces.
Others, however, offered a more tempered response.
Mitchell L. Dong ’75, the former vice president of the all-male Fly Club’s graduate board, said he still believes that there is a place for single-gender groups at the College, though he supports groups that want to go co-ed. Dong, who said he was speaking on behalf of himself and not the Fly, suggested that changes within the final clubs will take take time.
“This transition of the final clubs is not going to be something that happens overnight,” he said.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.
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