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In the wake of a University-wide report on sexual assault that lambasted final clubs, the A.D. Club announced that next fall, it will host an “open Punching process,” implement a members-only guest policy, and mandate a sexual assault prevention training program for its undergraduate members beyond what it anticipates the University eventually requiring. Though the decision to hold an open punch—allowing all male undergraduates to try their hands at joining—is a step in the right direction, we remain concerned about the pace and extent of progress on the issue of final clubs.
Indeed, amid its efforts to become more inclusive, the club did not announce plans to open its membership to non-male students—an action that two of the other formerly all-male clubs have taken. This breaking down of gender barriers is a necessary step towards making the punch process and these clubs truly open.
An open punch also does not necessarily mean that the club will change its selection process. Since the same individuals will be selecting the next batch of undergraduate members, it is possible that this change will be cosmetic only and not significantly change the makeup of the club.
Another problem is the logical dissonance between two of the A.D. Club’s reforms. While the members-only policy would bar the entry of guests to their clubhouse, the implementation of a sexual assault training program would be most useful in social situations involving members and non-members alike. The implementation of the former policy diminishes the purpose of the latter and raises the concern that the training program is little more than a cosmetic attempt to placate the administration. Despite these concerns, more sexual assault training is never a bad thing, and the effort is laudable.
Even if all final clubs were to hold an open punch and open up to all genders, the problems of sexual assault and diversity would likely persist. Further, such reforms would be unable to change the fact that these final clubs are social spaces founded on the basis of exclusivity.
Therefore, in addition to reforming the final clubs to make them safer and more inclusive spaces, the College should look to build up the surrounding social scene rather than simply tear down the final clubs. The clubs have developed their dominance over social life at Harvard in the absence of better options. The University has the resources to form alternative social spaces, and in doing so, reduce the dominance of final clubs. Early attempts to create more open parties for undergraduates have been met with success, and administrators should continue expanding opportunities for similar initiatives.
Ultimately, both the clubs and the University have more work to do in order to build a more inclusive social scene on campus. Measures like open punch are parts of the solution, but final clubs aren’t the whole problem.
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