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Aerial view of Harvard Yard | © Nick Allen/WikCommons
Aerial view of Harvard Yard | © Nick Allen/WikCommons

Why Is Harvard Cracking Down On Social Clubs?

Picture of Casey Campbell
Updated: 21 December 2016
Last fall, Harvard President Drew Faust announced that any member of an unrecognized, single-gender final club will not be able to participate in leadership positions on campus and may be barred from certain scholarship opportunities. This drastic decision follows a long-standing opinion on behalf of Harvard administrators – that final clubs are toxic for the overall student body.

Final clubs at Harvard – for men – have roots dating back as early as 1784. The social clubs got their names from the way admission worked. Freshmen at Harvard College could join a ‘waiting’ club upon first arrival, and eventually would be admitted to an ever-coveted ‘final’ club. The first all-female club was not created until 1991, and only two of the eight male clubs have incorporated women.

According to The Crimson, most of the final clubs began as local chapters of national fraternities but have now cut ties completely. While the fall is similar to a fraternity with the recruitment process of new members, these clubs adopt more ‘quiet fun.’ Instead of wild parties in frat houses, they socialize in their clubhouses, which are often filled with amenities like libraries, billiards rooms, and, of course, a well-stocked bar. Rather than attend orientation like any other Harvard freshman might do, the fall is filled with cocktail parties and elegant events, which serve as a vetting process during the ‘punching season‘ that new recruits must go through.

While this may seem like a group that any college student would want to be a part of, Harvard University severed its ties with final clubs in 1985 due to the fact that they refused to admit women. In a letter written by President Faust last fall, she noted that campus culture has changed drastically since these clubs began, and Harvard is an inclusive community for women and minorities. She writes, ‘I join you in urging the unrecognized social organizations to discard their gender-based membership practices, to adopt an open application process, and to establish greater overall transparency.’

In the past, President Faust has called the values of social clubs ‘arcane,’ and they can only lead to gender discrimination. In a time where sexual assault on college campuses is one of the largest issues of the year and women continue to fight for equal status to men, many agree with her. However, there is no easy solution.

While President Faust and others at Harvard are pushing these clubs to include women, Boston Globe writer Silpa Kovvali points out that this may not be the best option. In an opinion piece written earlier this year, Kovvali writes that allowing women would make each club even more isolated since there would be no need for ‘cross-class socialization.’ She also points out that it most likely would not change the type of person accepted as it is a well-known secret that the majority of members are affluent and white students.

This fall will be the first school year that club members are banned from leadership positions, as President Faust announced this in May of 2016. As Harvard University as a whole works more towards an all-inclusive student body, many think these social clubs should be diminished, or at least drastically changed in structure.