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UPDATED: April 24, 2016, at 10:10 p.m.
For months, national media outlets have picked up stories on Harvard’s tense relationship with final clubs—and many have placed particular focus on Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana’s recent efforts to make the historically male organizations go co-ed.
Last week, Khurana, who has for the most part remained silent about the national media attention, broadly criticized popular media outlets’ coverage of final clubs.
“In some cases I don’t think the media accurately characterizes our areas of focus and is actually sharing things like the task force report and its specific areas of concern,” Khurana said in an interview, referring to a recent University-wide set of recommendations for preventing sexual assault on campus and criticizing outlets for only choosing specific details of the report to emphasize. Khurana also argued that outside of Harvard, reporters do not necessarily understand the school's history with the clubs and the College's “changing student body.”
When Harvard released the sexual assault prevention report, multiple outlets focused on its sharp condemnation of final clubs. Decrying the final clubs as “vestige[s] of gender inequity” and emblematic of “sexual entitlement,” the report called on Harvard to regulate the organizations, which have not had official affiliation with the College for decades. A subcommittee of the task force even recommended that the College bar undergraduates from joining final clubs.
Outlets including the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Jezebel highlighted one particular statistic from Harvard’s report on sexual assault prevention. The report stated that 47 percent of female college seniors participating in “final club activities” had experienced some form of unwelcome sexual contact during their time on campus.
Khurana, who has refused to detail specific plans for regulating or sanctioning single-sex organizations, emphasized the importance of “sharing aspects of the recommendations again in totality rather than soundbites.”
Even prior to the report’s release, many national media outlets published stories on the final clubs after The Crimson broke news that the Spee invited women to participate in its punch process last fall. A headline from the The New York Times read that the invitations sent out to women to punch caused a “Gender Barrier at Harvard [to Fall].”
Later in the semester, when the Fox club struggled to quell internal division after its undergraduates admitted women into the organization, many outlets again put the all-male groups in the spotlight.
More recently, the graduate president of a final club broken decades of silence to criticize the College’s scrutiny of the all-male groups, and some national outlets have published staff editorials on the matter.
Nearly two weeks ago, Porcellian Club Graduate President Charles M. Storey ’82 criticized the College’s actions against final clubs and the College’s handling of sexual assault, calling for Harvard affiliates to “come together and ask the College to protect freedom of association at Harvard.”
After the The Crimson broke the news, a number of global media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, jumped on the story, creating a media frenzy around Storey’s remarks.
In the aftermath, the Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized any efforts to ban undergraduate enrollment in the final clubs.
“The only crime the clubs have committed is being out of sync with modern progressive sensibilities, even if Harvard’s feminist focus seems a little out-of-date in this era of proliferating gender identities,” they wrote.
Khurana argued that few national outlets understand complexities of the issue at hand.
“Outside of Harvard, people don’t understand our specific histories, they don’t necessarily have the full appreciation for Harvard’s history with respect to the strides it’s made over the years in becoming a changing structure,” Khurana said. “Many people don’t understand our changing student body and its needs and the changing nature of House life.”
“I think one of the things that we continually are doing is, first, emphasizing our shared goals and common ground,” Khurana said of the final clubs.
Earlier this month, Khurana floated a potential sanction in a private meeting, suggesting that the College could bar undergraduates in final clubs from holding athletic captaincies or receiving fellowships. He also plans to submit the College’s plan of action for sexual assault prevention by the end of the semester.
—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.
—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.
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