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Monday, October 10, 2005

final clubs (part 1)

It's Punch Season, which means a few hundred sophomore men across campus are thinking about whether or not they want to be members of Harvard's 8 male Final Clubs. Although the various arguments have been widely discussed and hinted at, I want to spend some time this week sorting through the issue, pulling apart the various aspects and trying to make some sense of it all. There are a lot of issues to get to (ranging from gender and economics to the very basis of Harvard's supposed meritocracy) so hopefully we'll have time and space to deal with it all reasonably. I highly encourage readers to get involved in this conversation, it's an important one that (in my mind) happens often, but almost always superficially.

In part 1 today, I just want to try to establish some objective facts that we can build off of during the discussion the rest of the week. If you are on the FUP list, you will have read these paragraphs already, but I think it's really important to start a conversation as complicated as this on the same page, and one of the primary problems that occurs when I've observed this conversation is that people come from completely different sets of facts. With that in mind, a few basics:(more in expanded post)

There are 8 male clubs (The Fox, The Owl, The Delphic, The AD, The Porcellian, The Fly, The Spee and The Phoenix) and two or three female clubs (The Isis and the Bee are the most active, Sabliere is also kind of a women's club). Each of the male clubs owns a mansion (each of them has a things like a kitchen, a dining hall, party rooms, bedrooms, etc. etc.) in the square between the yard and the river houses that they have owned for a very long time. The male club system is a left over of when Harvard was all male, and every man here was in a club, first a starter club, then a middling club, then a Final Club. The Final Clubs are all that have remained as the rest fell away during the 20th century. The Bee, a female club, just purchased a building on Mt. Auburn St., but has yet to furnish or use it. Isis and Sabliere do not own physical space. Because the Bee, Isis and Sabliere have not existed for very long and have limited resources (as well as much more limited impact on student life/dynamics), I'll focus on the male clubs from here on out.

Each club has a membership between 50 and 70 (I believe). They have various club events (parties, formals, members-only dinners and trips) as well as simply use the space to hang out, watch TV, study etc. Clubs also offer members connections to alumni and each other that help them personally as well as professionally. The Punch process (comparable, although different, to a rush process in a fraternity) consists of mostly sophomore (occasionally junior and much more rarely first-year and senior) men being invited (with an anonymous formal letter) to attend a punch event. The first event is usually some form of cocktail party, where prospective members try to meet and impress club members so that they will make the cut to the next round. The next round is often a get-away of some sort (like going for the day to a mansion) where those who remain drink and play sports and mingle. After that are date events and dinners, which end with the club members selecting the group of prospective members they would like to join them.

While all of the clubs have the above structure in common, their identities differ, both within the club community and as they are perceived by the undergrad community at large.

Are there any basic facts that I'm missing? Is my account actually objective? As always, COMMENT!


At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Yi-Ping said...

Ok, I don't know if this counts as a basic fact...but the final clubs used to be affiliated with the university until 1984, the year when the Supreme Court decided in Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees that sex discrimination in membership policies of organizations was forbidden. (Sidenote -- can you believe that before this date, groups like the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, etc. weren't co-ed? Or that all the universities I have attended went co-ed during my lifetime? wtf.) So anyway, in 1984 all the final clubs were ordered to either admit women or privatize. They decided to privatize and Harvard sold them their property for some ridiculous price -- rumor has it, $1 -- and they split off from the university. But basically, Harvard decided to wash their hands of the clubs through a technicality because the alums in the clubs exerted a lot of pressure on the university. I guess Harvard couldn't afford to lose the goodwill of its richest alums...who were...anybody? Anybody? That's right, male! Here's another kind of unbelievable fact: up until 1999, even if you went to Harvard as a woman, you graduated with a diploma from Radcliffe.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that Harvard even owned any of the Final Club property. I konw for a fact that some of the clubs have owned there property since much earlier than 1984.


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