Dozens of undergraduate men, and for the first time women, lined up outside a red door at 76 Mount Auburn St. early Thursday evening to participate in a decades-old Harvard College ritual: the final club selection process known as punch.
The Spee Club, one of the College’s eight unrecognized all-male final clubs, moved last week to go co-ed after more than 150 years, distributing invitations to its first punch event to both men and women. National media outlets quickly casted the move, first reported by The Crimson, as the dismantling of a significant gender barrier at Harvard.
By Thursday, when prospective members of the Spee visited its Mount Auburn Street property for receptions at 5 and 7 p.m., some of the campus’s original surprise seemed to have dissipated. It was replaced by festive anticipation, as men and women slipped into formal attire to take part in the competitive social selection process.
Alongside dresses in various shades of red stood navy blue blazers and khakis; the Spee’s flag waved in the warm wind. Smiling undergraduates exchanged quick greetings with Spee Club members before they made their way to the club’s courtyard. A second door, a direct entrance to the courtyard, stayed closed for most of the night, although members intermittently opened it to leave, offering a quick glimpse into the elite social scene.
For the prospective members who arrived late to the event, betraying a typical seven minute grace period iconic of the College, entry was more difficult.
Two women in purple-colored clothing apologized for their tardiness. Other stragglers followed what became a routine: attempting to swipe into the club but quickly realizing that, as they are not yet members, they do not have access to the club. They had to knock on the door, try the building’s intercom system, and finally wait a few minutes to enter.
Shortly into the gathering, clangs of glasses and tableware, mixed at times with coordinated applause, reverberated over the sound of ongoing traffic on Mount Auburn Street. Some passerby paused briefly as they passed the building or mentioned the club as they continued on. “Yeah, they’re under scrutiny,” one woman said as she passed, referencing the national media attention the club has attracted. “I know a guy who got punched,” another passerby commented.
Several students who attended the punch event declined to comment as they streamed out of the reception. One student, after he started to describe his experience to a reporter, asked if he was permitted to speak with The Crimson. To this, a middle-aged man in a checkered shirt who did not identify himself said potential members would face automatic disqualification if they spoke to the press. With that, the sophomore departed.
Two women ate cookies out of a red solo cup, as others, likely hoping for a chance to return in a future round, departed the building.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.