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COVID’s Punch to Final Clubs Is No Knock Out

By Lu Shao
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

A fall without punch. Twelve final clubs have decided to forgo the timeworn sophomore gauntlet in the face of a global pandemic. For our part, we’re not that disappointed — yes, even the sophomores among us.

Punch brings out some of the worst in Harvard: aggressive social jockeying for elitist institutions that have a history of sexual misconduct. Punch is, at best, a distraction from the ways we can positively engage with one another, build each other up, make space for solidarity and connection across social distances (of various kinds). At its worst, punch creates a hostile environment that pins the self-worth of students to their capacity to seem “cool” or be “relevant” — whatever those things really mean — and glorifies the piggish practices the clubs have enshrined. Yeah, we’ll pass.

But we’re also not celebrating. The lack of punch this year by no means indicates that final clubs are on the decline. There will more than likely be punch next year, and, if you ask us, it will be more brutal than ever. Why?

While Mount Auburn Street sits silent — free of the besuited boys who wait outside red and blue painted doors, un-rumbled by ostentatious speakers — sophomores (and freshmen) are sitting in their solitary dorm rooms or bedrooms, longing for social interaction: a party, a rave, a darty, a beer pong tournament, even just a chance encounter.

And that’s exactly what punch is. The promise of a final club — the Thursday dinners, the tight and sweaty spaces, the drunken singing — is everything we can’t have, and now, exactly what we long for.

Final clubs are built on their exclusiveness. Their power is a product of their mystery and unattainability. A year without punch will only add to that — hyping them up more, making them feel ever more tantalizing, ever more forbidden, ever more desirable.

What’s more, this summer, Harvard announced the end of its short-lived sanctions against the clubs and their members. As such, there are no institutional factors deterring students from joining.

All of these factors paint a grim picture: More than twice as many freshmen said they are “very interested” in joining a final club, sorority, or fraternity as did last year. Whether that’s the misery of COVID-19 or the end of sanctions — and it’s probably both — it’s good news for final clubs and their power at Harvard.

As Harvard looks ahead to bringing more students back to campus and rebuilding its in-person community, it will need to be mindful of that increased power.

We have long been in favor of the University taking action to create more safe, on-campus spaces for students to socialize in so that students do not feel compelled to join finals clubs as their only options on weekends. This will only be more important upon returning back to a campus in which the main thing the plurality of students have been missing is social interaction.

Moreover, coronavirus will likely still loom over social interactions when the clubs begin to return to campus. The efficacy of public health guidelines relies heavily on individuals and groups choosing to follow standards of public health, even when it’s least desirable. And college students, particularly social organizations, have done a pretty poor job of making these choices. Final clubs and their members, in particular, have a history of not following, or outright rejecting, particular policies. And as a result, we’re highly skeptical that the groups will all of a sudden forgo large gatherings and maintain strong public health practices — something the University will have limited capacity to control, given that clubs are private property.

To be sure, the delay may change social dynamics. Current sophomores could return to campus as battleworn juniors, less vulnerable to social pressure, and therefore less eager to punch. If the process, known to be competitive and taxing, sparkles less through older eyes, some in the class might pass on punch even if the clubs offer them a re-do.

Final clubs, like it or not, continue to be institutions of tremendous power on our campus. The University’s failed attempt to sanction the clubs is only the most obvious example of that pressing fact. And COVID-19 is by no means a check on that clout. With public health on the line, the choices clubs make and the messages they send to students are only more significant.

Perhaps they will surprise us.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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