More than three decades after splitting ties with Harvard because it refused to add women to its membership, one all-male final club drew praise from the College’s top leader for opening its punch process to women, though some other campus constituents remain skeptical.
The Spee Club, the all-male final club founded in 1852 and based at 76 Mount Auburn St., slipped invitations to its first punch event under the doors of some undergraduate women’s dorm rooms, putting them up for entry to the organization.
On a nearly 400-year-old campus where the pace of change sometimes seems glacial, the move was historic. The Spee, one of eight male final clubs at Harvard with large Cambridge properties and endowments to match, now stands positioned to become the first to go co-ed.
And Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana is taking note. “I want to really applaud and give my encouragement to the Spee to continue to be a model of leadership,” Khurana said in an interview Friday.
An outspoken critic of single-sex social organizations and what he has called “exclusivity” in all spheres of undergraduate life, Khurana said the Spee’s move serves as a positive example for other organizations, including the other seven male final clubs that have not yet indicated that they have plans to accept women this punch season.
“It contributes to strengthening an example and a model to our students who too often believe things can’t change,” Khurana said.
The laudation is a far cry from the harsh language Khurana used last semester when he condemned a controversial party invitation that the Spee sent to some undergraduates, drawing accusations of sexism.
On campus this weekend, students largely praised the Spee’s move to invite women to participate in punch, but some questioned whether the decision will effectively combat what they describe as other problems they associate with male final clubs.
Undergraduate Council representative Daniel R. Levine ’17, who introduced an strongly worded piece of legislation last spring condemning final clubs after the Spee party invitation incident, said the Spee’s decision showed that progress is possible in old institutions.
Levine, an inactive Crimson news writer, characterized the Spee’s move in mostly positive terms, saying that he hopes that other final clubs will follow suit to mitigate exclusivity on campus. He called that “probably the most important issue to student life right now at Harvard College.”
Other students called for a different response.
Brianna J. Suslovic ’16, who previously called for the dismantling of final clubs, said she was “cautiously unimpressed” with the Spee’s decision. Specifically, Suslovic said the move by itself may do little to increase the transparency of final clubs and the representation of all students in the groups.
“There's a lot of, I think, bigger issues with… these clubs overall, and so I don’t think that by welcoming women into the clubs we'll actually see any of those other problems addressed,” said Suslovic, who is also a columnist for The Crimson’s editorial board.
Suslovic added that she hopes the Spee will more thoroughly explain why the club, now more than 150 years old, just now decided to involve women in its selection process.
Administrators have recently increased public scrutiny on final clubs. Khurana, who has met with club leaders several times since he became dean last year, has declined to say whether he at all tried to influence the Spee to go co-ed.
Mitchell L. Dong ’75, an alumnus of the all-male Fly Club and a former vice president of its graduate board, congratulated the Spee’s decision, characterizing the club as “cutting edge.” Dong, who said he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the Fly, said he thinks other groups are watching the Spee with close interest. But changes within final clubs often take a long time, he added.
There is a large demand from students to be in final clubs and Greek life, Dong said, citing the record number of bids sororities extended to women on campus last spring. Dong, a major donor to Harvard, said he agrees with administrative concerns about the need for alcohol safety and sexual assault prevention at the clubs, but he said he thinks administrators should allow the groups to exist.
“Dean Khurana says the House community is good enough,” Dong said. “Well, I don’t think it’s good enough. I don’t think they should stop these single-gendered organizations from popping up if that’s what the students want.”
How the Spee’s move will affect other final clubs, which are now beginning their own fall punch processes, still remains unclear. On schedule, some final clubs—both male and female—gave out invitations to their first punch events this weekend, and final club graduate board leaders will meet with Khurana later this month.
For the women invited to punch the Spee, though, the next challenge is navigating the first event, scheduled for Thursday.
Katherine H. Scott ’18 plans to go to the reception. She said she was surprised to receive the invitation from the Spee last week and praised the club’s move to extend punch invitations to women.
“At first I was sort of in disbelief,” said Scott, who is also a Crimson sports writer. “I thought it was a female final club, because I wasn't expecting it to be from the Spee.”
—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.
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