Self-Conscious Final Clubs

Releasing the final clubs’ membership isn’t productive, but the response is revealing

Last week, a Tumblr blog at posted the purported names of members of the male final clubs. Several days ago, another similar blog, posted a list claiming to include the names of the female final club members. These revelations and the subsequent backlash from the students listed come in the midst of a campus-wide conversation about inclusivity at Harvard, a discussion that, as we have said in the past, has in part been helped by providing some degree of anonymity to the participants. Unfortunately, these blogs do not help create a productive discussion moving forward. Even as the reaction to them raises significant questions about the nature of final clubs, we need to have a more sincere dialogue than these websites can possibly create.

Part of the issue lies with the sensitivity of the situation. Though not ideal that Harvard students feel unable to comment on the record about exclusive social organizations, it is understandable. Members of final clubs recognize that there can be a stigma attached to self-identifying as belonging to such an organization. It is hard to imagine what sort of productive dialogue will emerge from publicly exposing the membership rolls. Crimson staff writers contacted dozens of individuals listed on the Tumblrs for comment; not one responded. The stated purpose of the site, to enable Harvard students to “discourse with [final club members] about inclusivity issues on this campus,” is written to be sarcastic and snarky.

In reality, these blogs represent little more than pettiness—yet at the same time, the reaction to their contents has been revealing. Final club members have viewed this as an unconscionable breach of privacy, a threat to future career prospects, and an affront to their organizations. The strong desire for individuals not to be associated with an organization they voluntarily joined, and indeed often at quite some effort, raises questions about why they chose to join in the first place.

If students are concerned they will be associated with organizations often viewed as sexist, elitist, discriminatory, or exclusionary, why did they associate themselves with them?  Their argument worryingly seems to boil down to, “we don’t want anyone to find out we’re doing something we know to be objectionable.”  Of course, many likely also think that the final clubs of which they are a part do not deserve the bad reputation that they have. If this is the case, their objection is more reasonable, but it still begs the question of why, if so concerned with the potential impact to their reputation, they joined at all. Doesn’t choosing to affiliate oneself with an organization represent a choice to bear the consequences of doing so?  

Ultimately, a more honest dialogue from both sides is needed. The serious issues of diversity and inclusion that the presence of final clubs presents deserves a more serious effort from the clubs and their members than we have seen thus far. Those who oppose final clubs, as we do, must remember to keep the discourse civil, productive, constructive, and engaging. That is the path forward for a more inclusive campus, not anonymous Tumblrs or secret lists.