As the sounds of Kanye West and Childish Gambino streamed onto Holyoke Street, sweaty, blazer-clad sophomores mingled at the all-male Owl Club’s first openly publicized punch event Wednesday night.
This punch season, though, the club sent an email to all male members of the Class of 2021 inviting them to attend an event either Monday or Wednesday. Some attendees also received individual text messages from club members encouraging them to attend.
Punch, held each fall, is the process by which Harvard final clubs have long recruited and selected their members.
The change to the Owl’s punch process comes at a time when the membership policies of Harvard's historically single-gender social groups are under intense administrative scrutiny. Fifteen former single-gender social groups recently vowed to go gender-neutral and, in exchange, received exemptions from the College’s social group penalties.
The sanctions — which took effect with the Class of 2021 — bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus club leadership roles, varsity athletic team captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for certain prestigious fellowships.
According to several attendees, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, no women attended the Owl’s punch event Wednesday.
Though the University previously justified the social group policy by arguing it would reduce sexual assaults, Harvard administrators later pivoted to a new rationale: the sanctions, they argued, would prevent gender-based exclusivity on campus. This year, administrators changed the justification again, arguing that the policy will promote diversity of every stripe.
The Owl is one of the clubs that has remained single-gender despite the sanctions, though it did recently agree to forge a vaguely defined partnership with the historically all-female final club the IC — supposedly meant to allow both groups to "explore paths of increased inclusion" this year. The IC has vowed to go co-ed and successfully applied for College recognition; the Owl has not.
But, unlike some of its peers, the Owl does not appear to be taking active steps to imperil the policy. Three other all-male final clubs — the Porcellian Club, the A.D. Club, and the Fly Club — have not only remained single-gender but have sent representatives to Washington, D.C. multiple times this year to lobby for a law that could force Harvard to choose between the sanctions and millions of dollars in federal funding.
In pursuing an open but still single-gender punch process, the Owl apes policies adopted by the A.D. and the Porcellian. Members of the latter group committed to opening their punch process in 2016, but have since continued their traditional recruitment methods of distributing handwritten punch cards to select sophomore men.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.