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In her most extensive public comments to date on the topic of single-gender social clubs at the College, University President Drew G. Faust put Harvard’s final clubs on notice Tuesday. She said in an interview that she and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana are weighing options to address issues of exclusivity, sexual assault, and alcohol use that she associated with the clubs.
“I know [Khurana has] been meeting with them and I have discussed with him the concerns that he’s expressed,” Faust said in an interview in her Massachusetts Hall corner office. “You know we’ve had a lot of concerns about alcohol and final clubs, safety in final clubs, we’ve worried a lot about sexual assault in final clubs, and so I think a lot of these issues that are very much at the heart of our considerations about undergraduate life have a special valence and relationship to the final clubs.”
The comments come in Faust’s eighth year as president, but during a time when the clubs are under increased scrutiny from students and administrators alike. At least two final clubs hosted parties over Labor Day weekend—the Spee Club and the Phoenix S.K. Club— but others seemed to have their doors closed for much of it, and the Fox Club is continuing to enforce a members-only policy. Other clubs have discussed adopting such a policy with "more frequency" in recent years, according to Fly Graduate Board President John L. Powers ’70.
Undergraduate presidents of several all-male final clubs could not be reached or declined to comment on Tuesday night.
Harvard does not officially recognize final clubs or Greek organizations, but many flourish outside of the University’s gates, leading College officials to keep up some relationship with the organizations, which are a social focal point for hundreds of students. In the past year, that relationship has become increasingly precarious as Khurana has ramped up criticism of final clubs, meeting with undergraduate and graduate board members behind the scenes. He has also publicly reprimanded the clubs at times, including last spring when the Spee Club circulated a party invitation that some women on campus deemed sexist.
Faust confirmed that Khurana has been meeting with club representatives and said she has been in close consultation with him. When it comes to final clubs, Khurana’s stance is clear: “The College continues to support the idea that … single-gendered organizations are not appropriate for the College,” he said last spring.
Faust did not go so far as to flat out denounce single-gender social organizations on Tuesday, but she explicitly questioned whether the clubs fit into Harvard’s undergraduate social scene.
“If we’re going to talk about reaching out beyond who we are, to embrace difference and discomfort ourselves and include people very different from ourselves in the lives we lead, and make a community that embraces the wide range of people here at the College, I think those ideals are sitting uneasily with the segregation of certain groups, the self-segregation of certain groups into final clubs,” she said.
Harvard severed official ties with its all-male final clubs in 1984, and to this day, it remains unaffiliated with them and the five female final clubs, five fraternities, and four sororities that Harvard students populate. Students, though, are still allowed to join them, unlike at Amherst, which prohibited students from being part of fraternities, sororities, or equivalents in 2014.
Faust did not rule out the possibility of Harvard pursuing a similar action, but said the current conversations with the clubs are “in the mode of trying to come to outcomes that represent the students themselves taking responsibility for the future that we all, I think, together, want to see.”
Last year, Harvard’s unrecognized social scene showed only signs of growth, as a record number of women rushed Harvard’s sororities, students added a new fraternity, and the male and female final clubs put up for entry, or “punched,” new classes.
Khurana is scheduled to meet with final club graduate board leaders later in the month, according to Fly graduate board president Powers, who is also a former Crimson sports editor. It remains unclear what the group will discuss. For the time being, though, Faust has made it clear she is behind her College dean.
“As we broaden the reach of the College to individuals from much more diverse economic backgrounds, as we emphasize the need for inclusion of all groups, to have certain groups that can dispense privilege and advantage in very significant ways that exclude individuals from membership is very troubling,” she said.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.
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