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What a difference a week makes. Not six days ago, University President Drew G. Faust broke her long silence on final clubs to denounce them as focal points of campus elitism, sexism, and sexual assault. Two days later, these pages broke the story that the Spee Club had begun to invite women to punch. It was, without a doubt, a historic move, and a good one, too.
As President Faust rightly says, final clubs in their current form are dangerous to the fabric of life at the College. To hear her say or imply what many Harvard undergraduates have no doubt long thought—that final clubs are socioeconomically elite, that final clubs are exclusionary, that final clubs have money and means far beyond the run-of-the-mill extracurricular, and crucially, that final clubs self-select to ensure the propagation and perpetuation of this privilege—was a refreshing change from her typically reserved leadership style. No doubt the changes at the Spee have been in the works since before President Faust sat down with The Crimson last week, but her public statements are still very welcome.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that becoming co-ed is a panacea. Of course, the exclusion of women from all-male final clubs is an enormous issue. With women as members, hopefully final clubs will be more welcoming spaces for individuals of all genders, with parties planned with more of an eye to everyone’s safety. Yet huge issues still remain. Even if final clubs include women, the self-selected nature of the punch process combined with the socioeconomic inequality that President Faust spoke of ensures that huge obstacles remain to final clubs serving as productive forces on campus. Bastions of exclusivity and privilege—much like final clubs today—are fundamentally incompatible with any vision of a more inclusive Harvard.
Given that the final clubs are private institutions, Harvard's can best retake ownership of its social culture by building inclusive alternatives on campus. Currently, there are very few on-campus spaces where students can pursue a variety of social activities. The final clubs have drawn much of their popularity and mystique by filling this void. Were the College to promote more on-campus social activity, fewer students would feel drawn to off campus parties. Regardless of whether other final clubs follow the Spee, the University should work toward greater inclusivity by providing and fostering alternatives to a Friday night spent on Mount Auburn Street.
The good news, though, is that this week has been a good one for inclusion. It may have been more incremental than transformative, more forced than inspired, and so long overdue as to hardly be progressive, but it is a first step in the right direction. We now should apply ourselves to the next steps: more inclusive and more effective social spaces, both on and off campus. Let’s make better Houses, better dorms, and yes, better final clubs. After all, the journey to a better Harvard begins with a first step.
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