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?”
So as to make sure that members judge prospective initiates, male and female, responsibly, the report suggests that the Fox undergraduate president reiterate during punch deliberations that “friendship” should be “the only standard for election.” Potential problems with attraction between members of the opposite sex would be “further diffused” as more women joined the club, making the issue “insignificant,” the report indicated.
“If the length and freedom of discussion currently present at deliberations is maintained, then it is unlikely that the factor of attraction would not be raised if any present member felt it was swaying members to a particular decision,” the report also suggested.
The report also presents a number of proposals to combat the potential for an “imbalanced power dynamic” to develop between the club’s older male members and its first female punch class. One point suggested only admitting junior and senior female students for the first co-ed class. Another advocated appointing a number of senior female members as “punch liaisons” to guide the punch process and respond to concerns from prospective female members.
This fall, the Fox ultimately elected a group of junior and senior female undergraduates who plan to lead an all-female punch process next semester, although their graduate board has since assigned them, and new male members, a provisional status.
One anticipated concern with the Fox’s admission policy was how it would react to an increase in legacy candidates, according to the task force report. By letting women punch, both the sons and daughters of club alumni would now be considered legacies—a status that at some final clubs greatly increases a prospective member’s chance of admission. The report suggests balancing the need to be “judicious” in the election process with “maintaining positive graduate relations.”
Beyond just admissions questions, the report delves into the minute procedural details of the punch process, addressing questions such as whether the club should allow punches to bring each other as dates to punch events. It offers several options: Officers could either permit or forbid that arrangement, hold separate date events for women, or eliminate date events altogether.
Officers could also change the requisite attire for punch events from “coat and tie” to “semi-formal” or “cocktail attire,” the report recommends. It suggests that the Fox could designate some bathrooms, meanwhile, as specifically for women, or the club could install locks and make all of them unisex.
Beyond those logistics, the report covers questions about how officers would navigate potential romantic relationships between members and initiates if women joined the club.
While the report notes that the club already had experience addressing existing relationships between members and punches, it implies that the issue would come up more frequently if it went co-ed. The Fox could require members who are in relationships with prospective members to recuse themselves from deliberating on their election, the report suggests, a policy it says the club should “potentially” adopt regardless.
“Such a situation has already arisen in recent club history, and requires the same maturity and caution of members that is already expected of them during deliberations,” the report says.
The document is clear that officers would expect club members to behave appropriately around women punches. “We expect male punches to behave around female punches the way male members ought to behave around female members. Any indication of punches unwilling or unable to do so will factor into the deliberation process,” the report proposes.
The report also says the Fox could ban relationships between two members, and if adopted, such a policy should also apply to relationships between prospective members.
The report also offers ways to formalize a policy on romantic relationships between members, instead of prohibiting them. The club could allow consensual relationships or “institute a policy of ‘don't ask, don't tell’ regarding member-member relations, asking members to be discreet about their intra-club relationships, and to respect that the purpose of the Fox club is primarily to build and maintain friendship.”
‘INSTITUTE A POLICY’
Beyond punch, the Fox’s report also indicates that undergraduates mulled over club initiation events, specifically questioning the place of nudity and alcohol. They also thought generally about how the club would respond to allegations of sexual harassment.
The report asks, “How will we deal with situations involving nudity, or any other situations that might engender potential sexual or personal discomfort amongst initiates?”
First, the report suggests that the Fox could eliminate initiation events involving “nudity or uncomfortable situations.” Alternatively, it proposes continuing them and maintaining the club’s existing initiation policy—which the report indicates involved telling initiates that all activities are “always” optional—or instituting new ways initiates can alert club members if they feel uncomfortable. Or, the report says, the club could host separate initiation events for men and women.
The report also addresses alcohol and how members could make sure women do not feel pressured to drink during initiations. The Fox could continue emphasizing that consumption of alcohol is optional, use senior female punch liaisons to ensure “no initiate is feeling inordinate pressure of any kind,” or eliminate alcohol from the process, the report says.
In several sections, including one on potential liability issues, the report also outlines in detail how club members could respond to sexual assault allegations.
The report recommends that officers institute a formal policy outlining the club’s sexual harassment response protocol—the implication being that it may not, at the time of the report, have had one in place.
The report says the Fox could develop one in collaboration with Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response—a University office with which the Fox had been building a relationship, according to the report. That would likely involve establishing confidential liaisons who could serve as point people to receive reports of sexual harassment and a clear policy detailing legal and disciplinary action the complainant can pursue, the report says.
Notably, the report also suggests that if the Fox were officially recognized by the College—it is not now, as the historically male final clubs cut ties with Harvard in 1984—the club could adopt the University’s own sexual harassment policies. Under that method, the report suggests, members would file complaints directly with Harvard through avenues such as the centralized Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution. A combination of those suggestions would reduce liability concerns if the club went co-ed, the report argued.
“With the institution of a concrete sexual assault policy, as well as an improved relationship with OSAPR, we would have a much more robust platform of support in the event of situations involving sexual harassment/assault,” it says.
If recognized by Harvard, the club could potentially fall under the purview of the Harvard University Police Department, rather than Cambridge police, the report adds. It suggested that such an arrangement could reduce the liability associated with the police shutting down parties.
But for the time being, the Fox’s future is in limbo. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, a critic of single-gendered social organizations, has been working on a set of proposals about the College’s social scene, but he has been largely quiet on what plans he has for final clubs. And the Fox Club itself is shut down until at least the start of next year as its graduate board leaders reexamine the state of affairs at their historically male social organization.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.