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Sunday, October 23, 2005

something to look for...

Word on the street is that this week the Crimson will be stepping up to its responsibility to its community and running an article, a column and a staff ed focusing on Final Clubs (both male and female), the punch system, and some recent interesting occurrences. We'll have to wait and see where they go with it all, but, in case you haven't, check out this community's body of work on the subject. Hopefully, the Crimson will give me a good jumping off point to share my long-postponed final thoughts about the club system, and you to share yours!

ALSO: Also, I have offered a Final Club President space on the front page of this blog to offer and response to or rebuttle of the dialogue that has occured here. He has not taken me up on the offer, but I will let you know if he does.

ALSO: If anyone would like to make the same offer to a leader or a member of a Final Club (or take me up on it as one of those two things) and be willing to identify yourself as such, let me know.


At 4:54 PM, Anonymous tina said...

hi andrew,

I was talking with a friend at lunch today about the Isis Crisis, which turned into a Final Clubs and their Discontents discussion, and felt inspired to post in response to your critique, since we discussed it.

I think that your critique about the “tremendous amount of privilege” bestowed upon final club members, like much of the general discussion of the clubs, gives too much to the clubs and their members, and makes them into straw men for bigger issues that warrant more discussion. It’s easier to attack the clubs than the bigger social issues, but I don’t even think the clubs are that important in reproducing the social issues. the biggest problem with final clubs is not a monopoly on the privileges of coolness, beer, sound systems, sexual partners, illustrious alumni, sweet job connections, fun, or male privilege. it’s a monopoly on space--physical, geographic space to have fun parties in.

all the other things I listed exist elsewhere at Harvard and are relatively easy to access if you can’t get into a final club – in many cases, easier to access at other places than from within a final club. it’s against the widely-held mythology of final clubs, but in reality any given Harvard student is much more likely to make helpful job connections from within the Crimson or the Harvard Investment Association than in a final club, and furthermore is free to do so. final clubs are not serving to solidify class differences in any deeply meaningful way, other than to give privileged (ie predominantly white, rich, all-male, know-each-other-from-boarding-school) kids better space to party in than anyone else.
people who “know the right people, wear the right clothes, play the right sport, listen to the right music, make the right jokes, went to the right school” are going to have more advantages in life generally—I don’t think final clubs are an effective straw man for this phenomena either--and to be honest I don’t think membership in a final club is going to make them any “cooler” (i.e., have even better clothes, more athletic ability, even better jokes) if that’s how you define cool (I define cool by how much people know about africa), they just have much better decorated rooms to party and watch TV in. that was kind of your point, that being cool gets them space, but just to emphasize, you’ve accused the final clubs of possessing space, not necessarily possessing the social definition of coolness. in fact many guys I know won’t even admit that they’re in a final club, due to social stigma – hardly a reproduction of “cool” social stature.

male privilege and heterosexual privilege are also not exclusive to final clubs, rather they are so generally pervasive that I think it’s almost subversive and obnoxious to focus on the final clubs as such a prime perpetrator, as if without final clubs, sexual assault would be less prevalent. at most large college campuses, greek fraternities provide party space and alcohol for the campus population that thinks partying is fun, and the issues of unhealthy drinking and sexual assault remain central. what’s missing in comparison to Harvard is the weird socio-economic elitist vibe of final clubs, and the utter lack of a comparable female system for women who want to participate in such a system—sororities can’t throw parties in their houses, but at most campuses, being a member of a sorority provides a roughly equivalent social experience in college and network of connections outside college as fraternities do.

I don’t think it’s helpful to make final clubs into a straw man for sexual assault on this campus—the only thing I can think of where a change in the final club system could actually improve a situation is if they were affiliated with the college in the way that fraternities at other places are, so that a sexual assault and/or rape can be reported to a school office, as well as police, and the school has some authority over the club regarding punishment. the situation of chimaobi’s friend and your friend happens with pervasive regularity in fraternities across the country, and it’s not going to stop happening if the final clubs disappear tomorrow – so let’s talk about sexual assault, let’s talk about it happening in final clubs, happening in houses, in any building on campus—it’s not going to go away if final clubs do.

to get to my main point, what students could be discussing more productively than final clubs is the lack, up until two years ago, of any expression of interest on the part of Harvard about the non-academic and/or pre-professional life of its students. students at other schools have a lot of things to resent privileged men for, but a near-total monopoly on space and money to have big parties and fun social events isn’t one of them. a garden party, trip to Newport, boat cruise, etc etc just sound more fun than sweaty common rooms weekend after weekend. why can’t there be a building—dare I call it a student center—here where there could be movie screens, a garden, a beautiful patio, a pub, places to watch TV and play playstation games with my friends besides my ugly, cold common room in new quincy? maybe even an office of student life to organize fun trips and events in such a building? why couldn’t hocos get more money from the school to organize such things in the mean time? why can’t the school provide the support necessary to have large, awesome concerts EVERY TERM like at other places? why is the UC party grant system limited to funding only ten parties every weekend, because the money is coming from our very own UC contributions [well not mine, because my dad checked the waive box even though I told him teddy worked very hard on it], not from the college at all? the pub, zac corker, etc are steps in the right direction, but what I’m saying is, at other schools zac corker is an entire, large office with lots of staff and money, and students at those schools have a lot more chances to have fun than we do. I think that a lot of the resentment about final clubs is the fact that it’s a lot easier for final club members to have fun in their gorgeous mansions than it is for anyone else in their common rooms or house JCRs, not the weak case for the further entrenchment of various economic privileges. and of course, it’s only men that get to do it.

so, in summary, of course you’re right that final clubs further solidify already-existing privileges. but I don’t think they do it by giving people with said privileges access to that much more, than a lot of beautiful space and booze money and date event opportunities. I think your critique is an effort to ascribe greater advantages to club members than what they actually have, and I think it’s important to point it out, because Harvard College could do A LOT to address the deficit of social opportunities to the non-privileged non-final club members, and I wish people would push harder for that, and waste less hot air about the Evil Axis of Mt Auburn St. also, I agree with alexis deT that it is cool for people to be able to form groups and associations if they want to, and, as a member of a social organization at Harvard, I think that my participation in a social organization has been extremely helpful to my emotional and mental wellbeing, and given me the chance to make some close friends I would not otherwise have made. so rather than advocating for the end of final clubs, I urge my fellow students to demand a large student center, and a large office of student activities, with a large budget.


At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, you've made a big point about the campus media monopoly, and yet you still didn't want to cover the Isis thing at all? Surely you have a copy of the emails, and whlie the Crimson waited over the weekend, you could've been writing. So why defer to the Crimson if your goal is to be another media voice on campus?


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