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Equality on Mt. Auburn Street

By Harvard's 2015 and 2016 Marshall and Rhodes Scholars

As a group, we represent 13 Harvard graduates from the classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016. We have different backgrounds—we are eight women and five men, six people of color, six first-generation citizens, and four LGBT students—and we spent our time on campus in different ways—we are four peer counselors, one varsity athlete, two PBHA volunteers, one HoCo chair, one UC representative, five Crimson editors, three members of the Advocate, three members of the Signet, and one member of a female final club.

Some of us see final clubs as toxic to the Harvard community. Some of us think the criticisms against them are exaggerated. For some of us, the biggest problem with final clubs isn’t gender discrimination—it’s racism, or classism, or elitism, or sexual assault. And some of us feel that, as alumni, we are too removed to weigh in at all.

But we’re writing together from across the pond because, as Marshall and Rhodes Scholars, we are currently enjoying a privilege Harvard has threatened to withhold from future members of clubs that refuse to go co-ed. And while we don’t agree on everything, we do agree on this: the faculty and administration should do everything in their power to combat the discriminatory practices of final clubs.

Last spring, Harvard’s administration ignited campus-wide debate by announcing a policy that would bar future members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations from holding campus leadership positions and receiving College endorsement for fellowships. Members of sororities and female final clubs protested, male final club graduate boards promised lawsuits, and some faculty members—led by former Dean of the College Harry Lewis—introduced a motion to prevent the policy from being implemented.

That motion was scheduled for a faculty vote tomorrow, and a form of this letter was set to run today, urging faculty to vote it down. But then Dean Khurana preempted the vote by announcing a new faculty committee to review the policy. In response, Dean Lewis withdrew the motion with the threat that, unless the policy is rewritten to his satisfaction, the motion will be reintroduced.

We strongly believe that the administration should not capitulate: while the policy may not have been perfect, it would have begun to upend the discriminatory system by which final clubs operate.

Whether you try to join them (as some of us did) or refuse to enter them (as others of us did), final clubs are unavoidable. Sitting in Lowell House on a Saturday night or walking down Mount Auburn on a Sunday morning, you know they're there and, likelier than not, you know you're not welcome.

Access to these spaces is, necessarily, exclusionary—the clubs have finite resources. In deciding who can participate, however, the clubs do not merely exclude: they discriminate on the basis of a number of factors—including, debatably, race, class, social status, and sexual orientation. But one factor is not open to debate: gender.

Harvard’s campus is dominated by multi-million-dollar, male-controlled mansions that women can enter only by invitation. Men decide party themes, send out invitations, and open the door. Harvard women can choose whether to accede to the rules men write, but they cannot write any of their own. While women’s groups have tried to compete, they simply lack the resources. The oldest was founded in 1991. Relative to the male final clubs, the female clubs are new, poor, and unconnected in the professional world.

Harvard began to admit women only in the 1970s—a decade after Princeton and Yale. In 2017, women remain second-class citizens of the Harvard community because they lack equal access to, and power over, its campus. And that means as long as the final clubs remain single-gender, women will never be equal to their male peers at Harvard.

When we hear about faculty opposition to the administration’s efforts to combat discrimination, we are mystified—and we are stunned that Professor Lewis has likened these efforts to President Trump's immigrant and refugee bans. We are concerned that the faculty committee, working under Dean Lewis’s threat of a new faculty motion, will undermine the administration’s crucial first steps toward equality on campus. We do not all agree on the policy’s details, like whether women’s groups should be included, or if leadership positions and fellowships should be used as penalties. But if, in a year, the policy has become unobtrusive enough to meet Dean Lewis’s standards, the faculty will have done a disservice to the university.

Rather than stall Harvard’s progress, the committee can be an opportunity to shore up and expand efforts to combat discrimination on Harvard’s campus. There is broad consensus that Harvard, as a private organization, is legally empowered to uphold non-discrimination. After all, Harvard is merely following the precedent set decades ago by even stricter policies at Princeton, Middlebury and Williams. As the motion’s own proponents have acknowledged, no rights—including the right to freedom of association—are unlimited.

And while the original co-ed policy was intended to promote gender equality, it is crucial to note that neither male nor female final clubs will necessarily become open, accessible spaces simply by going co-ed. Some clubs more readily admit low-income, minority, or LGBT students, but, on the whole, final clubs comprise some of the most privileged contingents of Harvard’s population. 20 percent of Harvard students come from families whose combined income totals below $65,000, yet that fraction, according to widespread perception on campus, is scarcely represented in these powerful organizations.

We challenge our peers to implement institutional changes like open punch, and we encourage the faculty to consider policies to address a wide range of problems, like racism and sexual assault, more directly. We ask Harvard’s administration not to cave in to pressure from faculty and alumni, and we ask our professors to support the administration’s efforts. Harvard must make good on its promise of “freedom from discrimination” and a “home in Harvard’s diverse community.” At a time when women’s rights and dignity are under attack, Harvard should not place its stamp of approval on gender-based discrimination.

Neil M. Alacha ’16 is a Rhodes Scholar studying International Relations at the University of Oxford.

Ruth C. Fong ’15 is a Rhodes Scholar studying Engineering Science at the University of Oxford.

Michael C. George ’14-15, a former Crimson news editor, is a Marshall Scholar studying Comparative Social Policy at the University of Oxford.

Anna A. Hagen ’15 is a Marshall Scholar studying Filmmaking at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Grace E. Huckins ’16, a former Crimson Arts Chair, is a Rhodes Scholar studying Neuroscience at the University of Oxford.

Rivka B. Hyland ’16 is a Rhodes Scholar studying Theology at the University of Oxford.

Garrett M. Lam ’16, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Rhodes Scholar studying Philosophy at the University of Oxford.

Bianca Mulaney ’16 is a Marshall Scholar studying Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Rebecca M. Panovka ’16, a former Crimson Fifteen Minutes Magazine editor, is a Marshall Scholar studying Political Thought and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge.

Yen H. Pham ’15, a former Crimson news editor, is a Rhodes Scholar studying Women's Studies at the University of Oxford.

Fritzi Reuter ’14 is a Rhodes Scholar studying Economics at the University of Oxford.

Hassaan Shahawy ’16 is a Rhodes Scholar studying Islamic Studies and History at the University of Oxford.

One member of the group, who was aware of the writing process, did not co-sign this op-ed, citing the need for strong administrative action but expressing concern that limited sanctions rather than a full ban on male final club affiliation would be counter-productive.

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