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I believe there is an important social role for final clubs at Harvard. Rather than seeking their demise, wouldn't it make more sense to commit to expanding their traditional contribution to Harvard by working to integrate them more fully into the responsible fabric of undergraduate life?
I don’t believe distancing Harvard from these organizations would be a good way to address alcohol abuse or diminish the occurrence of sexual assault on campus. If the administration worked closely with these clubs, the offending behaviors could be addressed to achieve better outcomes for campus social life.
Let's also acknowledge there is a strong demand for single-sex organizations on campus. Witness the growth of female final clubs from zero in 1990 to five today. Witness also the growth of sororities from zero to four on campus over the past two decades. Not to be outdone, given the limited capacity of the all male final clubs, witness the growth of fraternities from zero to five in the same time period. With Harvard’s help on real estate, the all-female organizations could catch up with all the male organizations.
It is more fitting for Harvard to lead the way in a national college discussion to develop responsible young adults wherever students of college age chose to belong to single-sex organizations. Opting out of this "discussion" does not seem Harvard-worthy when considering approximately 750,000 undergraduates across the nation and Canada belong to a Greek organization and their supportive alumni extend beyond nine million. This issue has heft, and Harvard's response matters.
The very idea that final clubs threaten the goal of Harvard being an inclusive place that welcomes people with different backgrounds is overstated. Harvard is hardly an inclusive institution, rejecting almost 19 of 20 applicants. All of the varsity sports teams regularly cut athletes. There are tryouts for the band, orchestra, and choir—and these groups only select the best musicians. There are many oversubscribed classes at Harvard where one must apply to get in. Acceptance into a final club is no different; punches compete on their social merits. It’s a myth that you are free to do whatever you dream about doing at Harvard. You must have the talent, work hard, and be lucky to achieve your dreams. In short, Harvard is a very exclusive place.
In addition to the final clubs, Harvard has many exclusive groups based on gender, race, and creed. There is the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (I was a member), the Black Students Association to name a few. The Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu students all have their affinity groups. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students have a group. Admittedly, these groups are theoretically open to all students, but their missions are so selective, that they are in fact very exclusive groups.
The administration maintains that House life should be sufficient social life for its students. But while that is a good starting point, Harvard should be all about providing many options to students. I enjoyed being part of the Chinese Students Association, the ski team, the Fly Club, and Kirkland House. I am glad that Harvard provided all of these outlets for me.
The male final clubs have their roots in the 1800s and acquired their real estate long ago. This gives them a competitive advantage. The female clubs are playing catch-up now that Harvard has more even gender ratios. Harvard could help the female clubs by providing them spaces.
Harvard should bring the final clubs into the fold and assist them in preventing sexual assault and alcohol abuse. Harvard has extensive policies and prevention programs for its Houses which can be extended to the final clubs. I believe HUPD is far more qualified to police and enforce such policies than the Cambridge Police. Harvard has a lot at stake to protect it students given the Clery Act and recent developments in the interpretation of Title IX. Harvard can show its leadership in campus safety among U.S. colleges with its potentially progressive stance with final clubs.
Harvard should recognize the role of final clubs as it does recognize the role of other single-gender, single-race, single-religious, single-sexual orientation groups that exist on campus. Excluding final clubs is not the way to have an inclusive or safe community.
Mitchell Dong ’75 is managing director at Pythagoras Investment Management. He was a member of the Fly Club.
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