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In a tense meeting with administrators that lasted almost three hours, undergraduate and graduate leaders of Harvard’s final clubs sought specifics on the College’s plan for the clubs. Although many final club attendees left largely frustrated, administrators outlined at least one uncharacteristically specific option for penalizing involvement in all-male final clubs.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said he could consider barring undergraduate members of final clubs from holding leadership positions—such as team captaincies—and receiving fellowships, according to four meeting attendees. Clubs have feared punishments for their undergraduate members amid heightened administrative scrutiny, though attendees said Khurana’s mention of a possible sanction was speculative.
Still, such a policy would mark an almost complete reversal from decades of administrators’ relatively hands-off attitude towards the historically single-gender social groups. Since Khurana began his tenure in 2014, the clubs have been the subject of unprecedented criticism from top administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust and Khurana. Last semester, the traditionally all-male Spee and Fox Clubs added women to their ranks, with Fox Club undergraduates telling graduate leaders that “Harvard has forced our hand.”
Wednesday’s private meeting between administrators and final club leaders comes at a time of intense administrative pressure on the single-gender organizations, which a recent University report called “often inimical to Harvard’s mission.” According to some attendees, though, administrators largely demurred on specific questions about their plans, despite at least one pointed request sent from the president of the all-male Fly Club for definitive answers.
Ahead of the meeting, Fly Club Graduate President Richard T. Porteus Jr. ’78 sent an email calling for more detailed plans to top College administrators—including Khurana, Assistant Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn dela Peña, Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich, and interim Dean of Student Life Thomas A. Dingman ’67.
The email, coupled with a rare public statement from the Porcellian Club, set the tone for an often-tense meeting in Cabot’s senior common room Wednesday evening.
“As we approach the end of a full year of conversation focused on that one topic, no details have emerged,” Porteus wrote, referring to the College’s requests that clubs go co-ed. “Therefore, the Fly Club board of directors, at the request of the full undergraduate and graduate membership, has instructed me to inquire of you this evening what, specifically, is ‘on that table.’”
Porteus then asked that the College provide yes-or-no answers to four questions by the end of the meeting.
First, Porteus, referring to Khurana by his endowed title, asked whether “the Danoff Dean of the College” will recommend banning undergraduate membership in single-gender social organizations. A subsidiary to a University-wide report on sexual assault prevention suggested either implementing such a ban or “allow[ing] clubs to transition” to gender-neutral membership and submit to greater University oversight.
Porteus’s email also asked whether Khurana’s pending recommendations to central administrators would apply equally to men’s and women’s clubs as well as the College’s burgeoning fraternities and sororities. Finally, Porteus asked whether Khurana would “recommend expulsion” for undergraduates who choose to ignore a potential final club ban.
Porteus wrote that he would forward his email to colleagues at the 12 other final clubs “to avoid confusion or duplication of aims” given that the College “furnished no agenda” for the meeting. “In order to foster transparency within the Harvard community on a topic that has been an ongoing source of speculation,” Porteus also copied a Crimson reporter on his email.
Asked before the meeting whether Porteus could expect yes-or-no answers to any of his questions, Khurana said “the College will be working to really understand how we can best support the organizations in their transitions to being better aligned with the College.”
According to four attendees of the meeting, Porteus did not receive a clear answer to any of his questions.
“No final decisions have been made, which is why we really appreciate these meetings, because they help inform policy,” Khurana said after the meeting.
Dela Peña said the administration was “in the same place where we were before [the meeting,] where we’re gathering a lot of information and no decisions have been made. I know that that’s frustrating to hear, but that’s just where we are.”
Although Dela Peña said the College has no strict timeline for releasing its plan regarding final clubs, Khurana reiterated his desire at the meeting for clubs to tell him whether they plan on going co-ed by April 15, according to four attendees.
Khurana originally issued that deadline at a meeting with final clubs’ undergraduate leadership on March 29.
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