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Harvard Can’t Achieve Safety and Equity for Women If It Ignores Their Voices

By Morgan Arenson, Eugenia Huh, and Ariel Stoddard, Contributing Writers

Basking in the praise of the national press for its efforts to make all-male final clubs go co-ed, Harvard has left out an important piece of the story: female final clubs.

On top of the eight historically male clubs—each of which is over a century old—there are five female clubs, founded between 1991 and 2008. Harvard’s administration has engaged the male clubs’ leadership for over a year about the changing social landscape on campus, only bringing us, their female peers, into the conversation this past fall.

As graduate leaders of a women’s club, we support the idea of moving towards gender inclusivity. We are also committed to ensuring a safe and equitable social experience, not just for our members, but for women at Harvard.

But we are deeply worried about the way Harvard is going about this change.

In the past few months, the female clubs have tried to work with Harvard’s administration to ensure that both men’s and women’s clubs transition safely and that women do not become collateral damage in the transition. Harvard has given us no indication it understands these concerns.

If the male clubs unilaterally go co-ed—as the Spee and the Fox already have—new female members will be at a significant disadvantage vis-à-vis new male members. The leadership structures and alumni bases of these clubs are still all-male, and will remain predominantly so for the next few years, if not decades.

These new women members, selected by a pre-existing all-male membership, will lack the benefit of women in leadership positions, who could help develop a truly gender-inclusive culture. They will also lack a female alumnae base. We have concerns about whether such conditions will be safe and beneficial for women.

Additionally, because female clubs (unlike male clubs) lack what Harvard students have repeatedly expressed desire for—adequate social spaces—if all the clubs went co-ed, there is a distinct possibility female clubs will die out. The support systems, safe spaces, and alumnae networks the women’s clubs have been striving to build will disappear. That strikes us as a tremendous waste, and an ironic one, given Harvard’s stated goals.

Harvard has given little indication that it has considered whether the new reality it demands will in practice benefit women on campus. According to conversations we have had with members of the Spee and Fox, the administration has not even reached out to understand how each of these formerly male clubs has integrated, or how they plan to support their new female members.

Why has Harvard ignored these concerns? Because it is enacting this policy primarily as a form of damage control.

Harvard is facing a barrage of media attacks concerning its abysmal sexual assault statistics, as well as an ongoing federal investigation and at least one lawsuit alleging Title IX violations.

In all, circumstances are ripe for quick-fix solutions that could actually run counter to the substance of what Harvard seeks to accomplish: reducing sexual assault and creating true equity for women.

If Harvard wishes to support students of all genders, it must encourage all final clubs—both male and female—to arrive at a solution that safeguards female leadership and networks, and allow final clubs the time required to do so.

If the administration and the press continue only to push for hasty, symbolic victories, that’s all we’re likely to get.

Ariel Stoddard '10 is president of the Sablière Society’s graduate board, Morgan E. Arenson '06 is its cultural chair, and Eugenia B. Schraa '04 is its legal chair.

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