The all-male Oak Club will adopt gender neutral membership practices during this spring’s recruitment process, according to the social club’s undergraduate president.
Undergraduate members and alumni made the decision after “a referendum in which a club-wide consensus to make this move was reached,” Jeremy D. Welborn ’18, the Oak’s president, wrote in an emailed statement.
The move makes the Oak the first all-male social group to change its membership practices following the announcement of historic penalties for members of Harvard’s single-gender social organizations—a designation that includes Greek organizations, most final clubs, and organizations like the Oak.
Those penalties, which will first take effect with the Class of 2021, bar members of single-gender groups from receiving College endorsement for post-graduate fellowships and holding leadership positions in recognized student groups or varsity captaincies.
Welborn declined to comment on the influence the sanctions had on the Oak’s decision to become gender neutral. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana did not comment on administrative involvement in the change, though he did praise the Oak’s decision.
“I applaud the leaders and members of the Oak Club for their efforts to help create a more equitable and inclusive Harvard,” Khurana added.
Neither a traditional final club nor a nationally-affiliated Greek organization, the Oak occupies a unique place among Harvard’s single-gender social groups. The organization, founded in Jan. 2005, is relatively young and, unlike its final club counterparts, does not own a clubhouse in the Square. According to its website, the Oak descends from Harvard’s chapter of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity.
The original Delta Upsilon chapter—along with many of Harvard’s other fraternities at the time—privatized in the 1940s and became the all-male D.U. Club, which closed in 1995.
Today’s Oak Club comes from a subsequent Harvard chapter of Delta Upsilon, established in 1999, though it “still embodies many of the original DU principles,” according to the club’s website.
The Oak joins the Spee and Fox Clubs as all-male social groups that have added women to their ranks in recent years. The Spee was the first to invite women to participate in its punch process in September 2015, officially becoming gender neutral when it elected a class of both men and women later that fall.
Undergraduates of the Fox also decided to accept women into their membership in October 2015, writing in a letter to alumni that Harvard had “forced [their] hand” and pressured them into accepting women as members of the club. Members of the club’s graduate board sharply contested the decision, resulting in a contentious divide within the club. In a club-wide referendum in August, supporters of adding women to the club narrowly failed to meet the two-thirds threshold required by club policy.
Unlike the Oak, both the Fox and the Spee invited women into their ranks before the May announcement of the College’s new policy. Two all-female groups, the Sablière Society and the Seneca, have adopted gender neutral policies in the wake of the College’s sanctions.
—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.