Months before the Fox Club, one of Harvard’s historically male final clubs, broke from 117 years of tradition to accept women to its membership for the first time, a group of undergraduate members made a plan.
The students, considering changing the club’s status quo even before administrative scrutiny of the groups came to a head this year, contemplated how a move to go co-ed would change the dynamics of its membership. They questioned which members would use which bathrooms in their clubhouse on JFK Street, debated how the club would address allegations of sexual assault between members, and suggested that elements of the group’s initiation process might need to change. They even brainstormed accessories that women members could wear in place of the traditional Fox Club tie.
Those recommendations, detailed in an undated report from a group dubbed the “The Fox Club Task Force On Gender Inclusivity” and recently obtained by The Crimson, suggest that Fox undergraduates spent months planning its move to go co-ed. According to the report, they pitched plans to facilitate the transition and maintain positive relations with their graduate board, which as early as last year explicitly opposed the move and recently shut down the club in the midst of controversy.
The document, titled “Primary Logistical Concerns Addressed,” details the logistical challenges of the change. It begins with a single bolded question: “how would we facilitate the introduction of females into the membership?”
Surveying potential worries within three main categories—the selection process, initiation, and membership policies—the report, in a question-and-answer format, responds to possible concerns with lists of options. Notably, the report outlines strategies to ensure that the club’s membership would be chosen independently of what it terms “superficial criteria,” such as physical appearance; that a plan is in place to address romantic relations between prospective and full members; and that women feel comfortable during the selection and initiation processes.
But the report also indicates that Fox undergraduates had to consider more fundamental changes to their initiation process and policies, and how to preserve graduate board relations, as they considered going co-ed. Specifically, the report questions whether the club should integrate women into initiation events involving nudity and alcohol, or remove those events altogether. It also suggests that the Fox lacked a formalized sexual assault policy at the time of the report, prompting undergraduates to recommend creating one.
The Fox Club’s decision to go co-ed this October was not the first time undergraduates in the off-campus social organization had proposed admitting women. In 2014, when some Fox undergraduates advocated adding women to the group, their graduate board leadership responded with a clear imperative: Conduct research and draft reports.
Reverend Douglas W. Sears ’69, then the Fox’s graduate board president, said last year that he advised one undergraduate member who was leading a push for the club to go co-ed to write a position paper on the implications of such a change. And when Fox undergraduates detailed the rationale behind their decision to ask a group of women to join the club in a letter to graduates this October, they acknowledged that they had met some graduate pushback.
Still, they argued that undergraduates had drafted a report “on the advantages and disadvantages of going coed” and pitched it as an informed decision, if one expedited by pressure from Harvard administrators. They indicated that work on the report began more than a year ago.
“Issues like club identity, logistics, criteria for membership, culture and tradition were carefully studied, and a plan was developed to admit women in a way that would not dilute or alter the most important aspects of the Fox experience,” they wrote.
It remains unclear whether the undated report from the Fox’s task force was sparked by the request from Sears, or whether it is the same one undergraduates referenced in their Oct. 19 letter. The Fox’s undergraduate president, Daniel T. Skarzynski ’16, and vice president, Patrick E. Dowling ’16, declined to comment for this story.
The report, which issues a range of possible solutions to concerns associated with going co-ed, does not make conclusions on what path the club should take, nor does it indicate whether undergraduates would vote on it in any form.
Undergraduates seemed particularly worried about how inviting women to participate in the traditional final club selection process, the period in the fall known as punch, could change the one purported criterion for entry—“will they be my friend?”
Among other concerns, the report asked, “How will we prevent members from selecting candidates based on appearance/attraction/more superficial criteria?”