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Thursday, October 13, 2005

what Final Clubs are (final clubs part 3)

This week, I've been writing about Harvard's Final Club system in an attempt to get to the basics of what is clearly a pretty fundamental issue of Harvard undergraduate life: socially, politically and economically. On Monday, I tried to establish some basic facts about clubs that we could work with as a foundation for our discussion. Yesterday, I tried to dispel some of the straw men anti-Final Club activists put up and make an argument for why the more subtle and systemic injustices require looking past stereotypes. Tonight, I want to get into the meat of the matter: what is wrong with Final Clubs? What are they?

Undoubtedly there is not one simply answer to that question. To members, the Final Club is a place to play, a place to make close friends, to drink, to meet cute girls, to relax, to do homework, to party like it's 1999. In addition, it's a place that lends them social cache, a little extra swagger and similarly swaggering friends. So what's the big deal?(more in expanded post)

In addition to being those things, Final Clubs are a place to solidify privilege. Each injustice, petty or otherwise, follows from that simple statement.

First and most obviously, it is a place to solidify the privilege of "coolness." If you are cool- i.e., 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- you get a mansion. Talk about payoff. In all situations, the privilege of cool is, of course, rampant. The cool kid gets the boy/girl, has the power, talks in section. But those are all fluid things, continually challenged, changing based on circumstance, and culturally unavoidable. In this case, that privilege is solidified and perpetuated with space. Now, you're not just the cool guy (and now occasionally girl), you get to throw cooler parties than everyone else, have more booze than everyone else, have more expensive drugs than everyone else, have a bigger sound system than everyone else. Coolness entrenched, not cool.

Second, it is a place to solidify and create the privilege of class. On the solidification side, class is an advantage for entrance in two ways. First, going to the "right" school- Exeter, St. A's, Harvard-Westlake, etc.- immediately hooks you into the Final Club community because many club members come from those same schools. Secondly, being the child of a club member means you are essentially automatically punched and, depending on whether or not your parent is a continuous donor, is a huge help in being asked to join. Because Harvard a generation ago was and these "right" schools are much less meritocratic and economically diverse than the Harvard undergraduate population in general, both of these tendencies support class advantage in admissions, and therefore unmeritocratic class advantage in the benefits that clubs offer.

In terms of the economic advantages (and this is where the class creation comes in), as a reader yesterday put it, the clubs "solidify and exacerbate privilege by institutionalizing social networks." Let me give a concrete example: a friend of mine who is in the PC described to me the first alumni event he went to after being welcomed into the club his sophomore year. He met an alumnus who asked him what he wanted to do when he graduated. When he responded that he didn't know, the alumni said "well, let me know if you want to do banking." It seems to me that if you take that moment and then multiply it by many times over (depending on the club and the individual), you have the institutionalization of social networks. Now, I understand that connections are a part of life (and certainly a part of Harvard), but here you have a system that continually perpetuates that advantage without true merit. In the case of something like the advantages brought by the Crimson, the IOP or some other group, connections gained are (at least to some extent) connected to merit. The people there do something, earned something, were elected to something. In the clubs, they are just cool.

Third, Final Clubs are a place to solidify the privilege of gender and sexuality. As I noted before, there are 8 male clubs with mansions and one female club with space (that is still being furnished). In addition to the uniform economic disadvantage this leads to (they don't even have an opportunity at the solidified networks), this leads to problematic and occasionally dangerous sexual dynamics (see yesterday's post and the subsequent discussion for more on this). In addition, the clubs (as well as their general cultures) are almost uniformly and often aggressively heterosexual. Some clubs have been better about accepting queer (by which I mean homosexual or otherwise non-heterosexual) men than others, but most clubs remain fairly uniform today. The result is that queer men (in addition to all women) are less likely to have access to the various advantages (space, money, etc.) club members gain.

Finally, I'd like to repeat the most fundamental aspect of this and come back to a few things I said yesterday. Remember that this is about solidifying and exaggerating injustices that already exist, everywhere. Usual this is subtle and cultural rather than based on some sort of conscious or explicit intention. This is important to understand to the extent that I don't mean to demonize club members but rather point out the consequences of totally un-malevolent actions. Also, the clubs are not all the same, and many of the problems listed above apply differently (and with different emphasis) to different clubs.

If you got this far, good for you. I barely did and I wrote the damn thing. What do you think? What did I get wrong? Where am I over or understating the case? COMMENT!

19 Comments:

At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Guess Where said...

Just asking for a bit of clarification. Do you feel that Final Clubs are inherently unjust, and thus the members are committing an injustice (perhaps unknowingly) by participating? And if so, how is it that you can defend your matriculation to Harvard? Perhaps while not entrenching the social virtue of "cool," it does institutionalize intelligence, status, and dedication in the sense that anyone affiliated with the university in an academic context will more likely than not be associated with those virtues, whether they have them or not. (And it is my experience that plenty of them do not have these virtues.) This is similar to the final club connection with "cool" that you claim exists, perhaps with larger and more dramatic impacts on the distribution of resources and wealth that you consistently decry. Furthermore, if you are intending to critique these institutions as inherently unjust, then would a more equal class distribution be sufficient at making it just? Just asking for clarification, because I am aware that many clubs have financial assistance options for members-- akin to financial aid at Harvard. And with regards to the point about social networks, I would like you to clarify your position on the relation of freedom to "equality." If you are against the institutionalization of social networks to transfer resources and information amongst people who feel strong bonds toward each other, then you are, in my opinion, insufficiently recognizing the importance of freedom of association. At some level, people are going to associate with people with whom they feel like minded, i.e.-- Jersey Slugger with the urban black poor and gay vegetarians. Now you can say that the association is not pursuing your conception of the societal good, but perhaps the members of the PC would say that you are not pursuing their conception of the societal good through this enterprise, which undoubtedly arose from a social network (FUP) that was institutionalized in another form (cambridgecommons). You did not, presumably, hold open auditions or applications and would not, presumably, accept any columnist-- perhaps any commentator, but not any columnist because you are attempting to create a far-left dialogue. Understandably you are engaged in different social enterprises, but do you feel that the entire enterprise of the final club is so illegitimate that it justifies curtailing the freedom of association on campus? I think a lot of the writing I have read on this site demonstrates an unwillingness to deal directly with freedom as an ideal in relation to other concepts like social justice or equality. Perhaps it is because we often take certain freedoms for granted as Americans, but I think that for you all to be taken more seriously as political commentators/theorists, then you need to discuss your conceptions of freedom and how they play out in these sorts of respects.

 
At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, nice post by guesswhere. Bravo.

 
At 12:23 PM, Anonymous paloma said...

I was getting all geared up to write and then I realized guesshwere said most of it. To consolidate my main point, similar to guesswhere's--why is consolidation of any one resource necessarily bad when expressed in a form you approve of (FUP, HSF, etc.) and not when in a form you don't (too many white people in one place, finals clubs, investment banks)?

 
At 5:55 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

great thoughts Guess Where, let me try to respond to your points. Apologies for the way I continually number my points, I'm trying to think and write as clearly as possible (cause this shit be complicated!).

First, you make the analogy between Harvard and Final Clubs, pointing out that (very rightly) both confer a tremendous amount of privilege. The distinction I would draw, however, is that Harvard is conferring privilege (in the abstract at least) based upon merit. If the Harvard/Final Club analogy really worked, the captain of your high school football team and head cheerleader (or whatever analogous non-traditional "cool roles") would be here, not you (unless you're that too, in which case kudos). That, I'm assuming, we could all agree would be problematic. Harvard's admissions is certainly not perfect and it also exaggerates some social injustices (widening the education gap, for instance), but at least it aspires to (and at least in some general sense) achieves a meritocracy. I do value a society that rewards intelligence and hard work, so I value systems that do the same over systems that run counter to that.

Second, you ask if a broader class distribution would improve the situation and (again very rightly) point out that many clubs have financial assistance. The short answer is yes, broader class distribution would be better. However, I didn't site due costs as a part of this (because there is financial assistance) and each of the other problems I named would continue to be problems.

Finally, you ask for a clarification on my problem with social networks. I would start by saying that I am not making a legal argument. Each of these groups is free to do what they will, no one is coming to get them, so I'm not sure how "freedom of association" really comes in. No one is removing anyone's freedom. That being said, there is a moral question at stack. If you accept (and you may not, so I won't assume) that there exists in this country various social and political problems- lack of class fluidity, racism, homophobia, sexism- you identify not only certain problems, but an ideal. My ideal is one in which those problems do not exist and I try to identify aspects of society that maintain them. When they are legal, I try to unlegislate them, when they are cultural, I try to talk about them to change the culture. Now, when it comes to FUP of Cambridge Common, neither organization is perpetuating systemic inequality. Anyone with a computer can start a blog of their own (and if they do a little advertising and write something worthwhile, have an audience). Similarly, anyone can go to the Crimson, can join Phillips Brooks House. If you work hard and have the right skill set, you are welcome and the connections you recieve will be at least partially predicated on your talent and work. To repeat my previous argument, this is not so at Final Clubs. These reward privilege to the cool and connected. Nerdy McReadsalot can work as hard as he wants, he's not gonna get in. Finally, unless there's something going on no one has told me about, neither FUP nor Cambridge Common have connections to the American financial or political elite...

Communities do make moral decisions about whether or not completely legal institutions that exist are acceptable and join/don't join them accordingly. I can think of a lot of private clubs that could exist that, because they would have a negative impact on society, no one would join. Does that clarify? Let me know if you understand where I'm coming from, and anyone else who wants to join in, please do!

 
At 7:26 PM, Anonymous ossify said...

I'm particularly interested in this discussion as an inactive member of what was a low-key social group, (pleaides) that has recently begun to settle into a more traditional social club. I originally joined because the group of girls I met was MORE diverse than anyother I had met on campus in terms of extracurricular interests, race and personality. I love the other groups I am in (PBHA and Crimson stuff), but the groups themselves are homogenized, being groups based on personal interest. I don't think such a homogenization is malignant in any way, (people naturally break into grups based on shared itnerests) but Pleaides was away to have regular contact with people interested in completely different things than I was. There are currently changes evident in the group: though lacking in prime harvard square real estate and illustrious almuni Pleaides is starting to trainsition into a more traditional final club, (more exclusive punch, more emphasis on schmoozing skills etc.) In terms of the final clubs debate I think you guys have done a fantastic job of discussing the male final clubs, but I am interested in also seeing how the female social clubs will come to define themselves.

 
At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Guess Why said...

For you to claim that Harvard bestows the consolidation and institutionalization of privilege based largely on merit is I think a tenuous argument that begins at the wrong premise. Merit is inherently subjective. I can only claim that things I find valuable have merit. For example, one could imagine a faraway island community where the greatest skill that one could have would be to be an awesome fisherman. However, a resume claiming that you are the best fisherman in the world would be unlikely to get you into Harvard. Thus, merit at Harvard is already on many things that are subjective and have a very clear-cut American elite bias. For example, it is fact that year after year, people who are talented classical musicians are admitted to Harvard largely because of the talent they possess. But this is only because Harvard deems this a worthy talent. There are dozens of amazing underground rappers that are the age of 18, but I am sure that Harvard would not go out of their way to recruit them, because that is simply not what is considered valuable or worthy of merit. Same for ethnic musical genres that might enjoy little to no critical acclaim. So I think just like Final Clubs find things like, worldliness or affability or humor or intelligence or some other personality trait valuable, Harvard makes similar value judgments that you just happen to agree with more. But even more importantly than this fact, and ultimately the more pressing point is that if merit is subjective and Harvard's ideals of merit align closely with those of the "American elite," then which people will have the OPPORTUNITY to even showcase what you are calling merit? If I attend a poor urban public school, then I am not likely to have a music program and my parents are unlikely to own a piano or be able to afford piano lessons. Thus, I am never capable of demonstrating this particular type of merit that Harvard would find appealing. Furthermore, at the end of the day, these are social clubs that are about looking for members who have traits which are attractive and often demonstrate forms of intelligence that are not usually thought of that way. For example, people who are brilliant artists, or charismatic leaders, or talented comedians are heavily sought after by some clubs and all of these things show some form of intelligence. If then, these clubs offer financial assistance to encourage the participation of candidates whose gifts as social beings or creative beings are sufficient enough to be considered to have merit by club members, I don't see how this is sufficiently different enough from Harvard to justify them being a social pariah whereas Harvard remains a social ideal.

On the point about freedom, I find it a bit disingenuous for a person who quite often laments the effect that a lack of resources, or a sense of relative deprivation based on one's relative lack of resources, to be able to use a strictly legal definition of freedom. I think it is quite reasonable to assert that freedom is affected as much by social pressures, constructions, and realities as it is by resources. Coming from a far-left perspective, one might usefully utilize the concept of hegemony or false consciousness. In an example that Jersey Slugger would undoubtedly empathize with, one might argue that post-independence Nigerians could be legally "free," but not entirely free, simply because of the burden of mental or pyschological colonialism. All of this is simply to say that I don't think you take the idea of freedom seriously enough. You should think about your goals of eliminating social ills and divisions in terms of confidence. Are you so confident in your vision of societal good that you could justify curtailing the freedom of final club members to join organizations that you deem to be harmful to that conception? I think freedom of association is one of the most important things a person can have, and to curtail that must be an extremely serious matter. In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government deemed a number of associations that were operating entirely within the bounds of American law to be sufficiently detrimental to the societal good that the government would be justified in using extralegal tactics to eliminate them (Black Panthers, SNCC, AIM, etc.) Do you have a similar amount of confidence in your belief that people should not institutionalize "cool" or resources in social clubs? And a final point about the distribution and institutionalization of resources. Equality is a complicated ideal that is often twisted in the name of popular rhetoric. But you do have to take seriously the question of whether inequality can be beneficial to a society. For example, if Harvard did not bestow an amount of prestige or privilege amongst "meriting" students-- could you convince many people to sacrifice their time and energy and emotional wellbeing to participate in its academic structure? And if you didn't have concentrations of resources and privilege at a place like Harvard, could you consistently develop scientific, philosophical, and artistic innovations at a rate that could reduce the overall negative impacts of inequality in society over the long haul? And to bring final clubs back in, could they possibly-- perhaps in the presence of a student center or more productive house life-- be capable of producing benefits for Harvard society by aggregating "cool" people with certain talents and abilities together to provide goods for the campus and eventually network together to provide goods for society? Or are you so confident in their inability to do so that you would recommend their total elimination?

 
At 2:31 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Guess why/where/who/what/when and every other name you use to maintain your anonymity,

Thanks for the comments. First, to the point that Final Clubs are simply institutions that reward another merit that I subjectively deem problematic: You are right, it is only my opinion, not some objective truth, that being rich, white, male, heterosexual and cool should allow you to have massive advantages over other people. If you subjectively feel that those skills and/or circumstances should be rewarded, than you should support Final Clubs. I am not criticizing clubs practices of rewarding artists or charismatic leaders, so your argument is functionally a straw man. And, while I agree with you that the reality of inequality of circumstances and opportunity in America makes those who get into Harvard not really meritocratic (that's a whole other discussion I hope we get into at some point), I don't see how one injustice exempts us from discussing another. Finally, I do believe in a society that rewards talent and hard work over gender, race, sexuality or class. If Final Clubs truly did that, we could have a more interesting conversation. They don't.

Ok, to your more general libertarian point about me not understanding the fundamentals of freedom: I'm not adhering to a "strictly legal definition of freedom" in my personal thinking, but in the reality of this situation, I am. As I've said in other posts, Final Clubs are legal. In fact, I believe they should remain legal for the very reasons that you site (Panthers, SNCC etc.), I don't want the government to get involved in situations like this. Even if I did, they won't and can't. BUT, there are a myriad of things that a person can (and should be able to) say and/or do that I would call immoral and unjust. This is one of them. I have a fairly high confidence in my opinion, but even if I didn't it would matter because fundamentally I cannot coerce anyone into doing anything. All I can do is offer this argument and hope that they make a personal moral decision to change their behavior. My final post (which I will hopefully have time to write tomorrow), will cover various things that I hope can be done if people do agree that the club system is functionally unjust.

To your final argument that we should apparently support the club system because of the goods it provides this community: I am simply confused. My argument is based on the idea that I believe they do harm to people not in them in various ways and unjustly help those who are in them. Your continued parallel to Harvard also continues to confuse me because I above explained why, while both are problematic to me, they are functionally different because they reward completely different things. Again, if Final Clubs were a pseudo-meritocratic system on top of a pseudo-meritocratic system (without the problem of only allowing men, and inordinately favoring white, heterosexual and well-off students) than Final Clubs would be a small version of Harvard at Harvard. This is certainly not the case. Final Clubs could be more closely paralleled to Harvard in, say, the 1950s or 60s than Harvard of today. Neither is perfect, but one is certainly better than the other and BOTH should be much, much better.

 
At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One quick point: I think everyone is underestimating slightly the degree to which legacy status plays a role in Final Club admissions. If you have a father, grandfather, uncle, brother, etc. who was in a final club, you basically get in as long as they pay their dues and you're not a total fuck-up. This varies from club to club, of course, but the effect can be dramatic. I have a friend who was a punchmaster last year, and he had 8 legacies he basically had to admit. In the case of a smaller club like the PC (which admits around 8-15 guys a year), that means that, depending on the year, way over half of the new members could be legacies. There has been a lot of talk about Final clubs rewarding a certain set of qualities, but no one has really addressed/defended the idea that to a large extent it's a hereditary thing. Also, if a club were to go co-ed, as has been proposed, that number of legacies to admit every year would instantly double (because there are just as many daughters of club members as sons), meaning that many clubs would have only a handful of slots for the so-called cool people.

 
At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be that this discussion has already gone stale, but I couldn't help throwing out a few ideas, if only for the sake of articulating my own thoughts in response to what I have read.

For one thing, I am wondering who read Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker (was it last week? or 2 weeks ago now?) about the evolution of Harvard's admissions process. It was a book review, granted, and I can't claim to be citing facts when I make this point, but Gladwell certainly suggested that Harvard's admissions process is *not* by any stretch, based solely on its students merit. At all. Gladwell explains that Harvard revamped their entire admissions process when Jewish students started getting admitted in higher numbers because of the addition of standardized test scores to students' application materials. To control this, Harvard instated interviews as part of the admissions process; at that time, they were basically to check out students visually for signs of 'jewishness.' Years later, though, the personality test continues to be crucially important to each student's application. I think the word Gladwell used was 'superstar' -- Harvard doesn't just want the brightest students, it wants folks who are going on to succeed in big ways once they leave, and it has pretty much been demonstrated that personality plays a big part in this -- potentially more than intelligence.

If this is so (which is a debatable 'if,' I grant), then Golis, your whole argument that Harvard = good because it admits sutdents based on merit and final clubs = bad cause they admit dudes baseed on 'coolness' (might we call this personality?) deflates considerably. If you're at this school, it's most likely because someone thought you were kind of a cool dude -- maybe they only took time to evaluate that fact once they saw that you also aced your SATs and took college level classes as a junior in highschool, but at the end of the day, you got in over some equally smart kid who was less charismatic. Or so we might suspect.

Secondly, while I definitely agree with some of the sentiments expressed about final clubs on these pages, I still have this sense that there is some huge underlying assumption that could stand to be examined. Let's consider the following:
(1) in most cases, the 'point' of a final club is not to throw parties. In fact, in most cases, the grad boards are constantly busting the members' balls about partying, cause every non-member in the club on a given night is a huge liability for the grad board -- in many cases, they'd rather not allow guests at all, just so they don't have to worry about getting sued cause some kid drinks too much beer and falls down the stairs. What Golis refers to as 'the power of the door' is, in many cases, a practice that is used to be sure that there aren't random kids in the club getting wasted and potentially hurting themselves -- the idea of bouncing is to only admit people that the members know and have invited (and hopefully won't get out of control and/or sue).

And for the record, it is absolutely not the case, at least at some clubs, that being female and/or scantily clad will get you in. I can attest.

(2) Members of clubs pay for every drop of beer that everyone in the club drinks, and this cost is *in addition* to their dues. So basically, going to a final club is like showing up at some guy's nice apartment and drinking his beer. In many cases, the guy in the analogy is some guy you never know and probably don't see all night (a Gatsby, if you will). One might feel 'justified' doing this based on the fact that you perceive this guy to be wealthier than you ('well,' we tell ourselves, 'he can afford it more than I can'), but that still makes you kind of an asshole for taking advantage of him, and even moreso if we consider, as has been stated in a few other places, that many clubs have financial aid for members, meaning these kids are not walking moneybags.

I think what people need to get over is the idea that they are somehow *entitled* to, or *need* to party in final clubs. Yeah, they're unfair, but one of the main reasons they seem so unfair is we all keep lining up at the doors on Fridays and begging to get inside. If people would stop paying so much attention to them, I don't think any of this would be such a big issue. I can think of a number of blocking groups in various houses who have made concerted efforts to throw regular parties and get togethers, and guess what -- none of those kids give a shit about clubs or bother going to them.

And in closing, I would add that I think there's a reason that people lament the 'abysmal' social scene here at Harvard -- maybe it's just that Harvard kids aren't so good at finding fun things to do. Instead of throwing our own parties or finding fun places to go, we all flock like sheep to the Spee cause we can drink someone else's beer and sit on someone else's couch. In many cases, the aforementioned blocking groups often end up with overcrowded parties too cause --guess what? -- people line up outside the door and beg to get in, even if they don't know any one throwing the party. Sound familiar?

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To blame the "coolness" of final clubs on the rest of the students on campus for caring so much about them is pretty ignorant to the fact that there must be some reason they're standing at the door in the first place. Yeah, it's a space with alcohol, and that's pretty much all Harvard kids want on a weekend. But you don't see the throngs of people banging on the door of the Advocate every weekend, a place that also serves alcohol and plays music. Why? To me, it's probably because they don't like the kind of music they play, or the place is "artsy" and so they don't feel comfortable (or come up with your own reasons, these are just a guess). Well then it isn't just about the space. The Advocate defines its space this way, and other students don't feel like they fit that definition so they go someplace else for alcohol. The problem with final clubs is that define their space on criteria that pretty much anyone on campus can fulfill (we can party, hang out and drink too), and then stop them at the door when they want to join you. So yeah, maybe we’re not so entitled to party there, but what makes you so special?

Okay, well these guys paid for this space and this booze, so they get to decide if you can come in or not. But why did THEY get to join in the first place, and not some other guy? He was picked on qualities that a lot of other guys could possess as well (being social, wanting to party) but for some reason (legacy, social connections, being on a sports team, whatever) they got in, and now they have the privilege of that space.

Okay, well then what about the Pudding? They define their space as a place to hang out and drink with their friends. How come they don't have throngs of people at their door? If you think about it, a lot of people on campus don't even know the social club exists, or where it is, and I think the members are pretty okay with that. Being a member doesn't seem to carry that mystique of “oh, you’re in final club,” and granted I don’t know much about the Pudding (probably like most people I thought they were all theater people), but I feel like members really don’t care if you think they’re cool. They’re happy just being a place where they can hang out when they want to and drink with their friends. So how come Harvard kids ignore the Pudding on a Friday night and crowd the final clubs? Hmm, well maybe it has something to do with the final clubs then, and not the kids at the door…

Your argument is that members of Final clubs really just want a place where they can hang out, without all those random kids who come for free beer. The problem with these clubs is that they’re constantly out there (they throw huge parties in their mansion that can last all night, or throw champagne parties in a club) so they’re always on the radar. Being on the outside of all this, I feel like members do secretly want you to know they’re cool. I’m not saying they flaunt their membership (there are no Fly or Spee sweatshirts), but they let you know in other ways. They’re the guys you can call to let you in the door, they’re the guys that put you on the list for a party, they’re the guys that decide who’s in and who’s out. You can’t argue that that kind of power isn’t cool. It’s like the tourists all over campus: we all hate them because they stand around the statue and gawk at us as we try to walk by late for class, but at the same time it makes us feel special because they must be here for a reason. To say that their door policy is just a liability issue is pretty simplistic in my view. This is about power and privilege.

So how do you solve the final clubs’ problem of huge crowds, and the students’ problem of no party space? The UC’s party fund has helped, but that’s not going to fix everything. You can give some guys in Pfoho money to buy kegs and throw a party, but if students had the option of partying in a huge mansion over a sweaty college room, which would they choose? To be completely honest, I’ve got zero sympathy for these members who aren’t “moneybags” and have to work to pay their dues. I work too. And the fact they think they joined just to have a space to hang out means they’re pretty lousy at introspection (or are just really good at convincing themselves). If all they really cared about was having a place to drink with their friends they would buy some beer, close their common door and hang out. There’s a reason they picked the mansion over the common room.

 
At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, here, responding to Anonymous.

You argue that Final clubs are 'always on the radar,' whereas, in the case of the Pudding, 'a lot of people on campus don't even know the social club exists.' From this you conclude that the cause of this situation is that '[final club] members do secretly want you to know they're cool,' whereas Pudding memebers 'really don't care if you think they're cool.'

Um, I disagree. If the Pudding were next door to the Phoenix, then we could have this discussion and make judgments about the characters of the type of people who choose to join each club, and I think you'd be surprised. The only thing that makes the Pudding different from a Final club is that it is currently located halfway up Garden street (where no one ever walks by), and prior to that only had use of a building one night a week in the evening. What I'm getting at is this: if final clubs are 'always on the radar,' this must be at least partially because they're right in Harvard square. If you had to walk by the door of the Pudding on your way home every night, and you saw people partying it up in there every night, then you'd hate them too, and you'd demand to be let in, and you'd be pissed and outraged when they started telling you that you can't come in cause you aren't a member or you don't know a member. I think if the Signet threw parties, then people would start to get pissed if they got bounced too -- and that club *is* based on a criterion most people find acceptable (namely: contribution to/participation in the arts at Harvard). I guarantee you that if the Signet regularly threw parties and you got turned away, you would *not* walk away thinking, "Well, it's fair, I guess. I don't do anything in the arts."

As a tangential side note: college dorm rooms are sweaty and uncomfortable, yes. So are overcrowded final clubs. Why do they get overcrowded? Because of people thinking they need to be in the final club to have a good time. Huge mansions aren't huge when they're full of a million people.

Moving on: let's think for a minute about the dynamics of a social club. So, say people want to have clubs that are literally just about hanging out -- in itself, this seems harmless, in that it needn't step on anyone else's toes. If you want to get together with your 20 closest friends, call yourself a club, and have private parties in your common rooms, or plan fancy meals together, there's nothing wrong or unfair about that, right? Disagree if you must, but I think that's pretty harmless.

If that's the case, though, it seems painfully obvious that the criterion for choosing members of a social club is going to be their connection to other members, right? I mean, how else are you going to pick new kids -- just stop some random kid on the street and say 'hey, wanna party with us this Friday?' No, of course not. You're going to invite that guy you've been hanging out with at parties, or that girl who impressed you in section, or that freshman that you know through your extracurriculars. What I'm getting at is -- given that the point of the club is just to hang out, then there is some impetus for choosing people you already know -- you know what it's like to hang out with them, and that's the point of the club.

So in some sense, yes, it's a bummer if some guys don't get punched for clubs, or if they get punched and don't make it through the process. Probably they would love to be in clubs, and would contribute something as members. But if you don't know anyone in the club, or if you aren't getting along with the members as you go through punch, then WHY would you want to be a member anyway? Would it even be fun to have that huge mansion if you don't know or get along with anyone else you're sharing it with?

And I would end, anonymous, by repeating the fact that I think your entire reasoning is still based on the assumption that club members *want* a ton of people to come and hang out at their clubs -- that this is somehow 'the point' of the clubs, and that guys join so they can have this alleged 'cool-making' privilege. That just isn't so. They throw parties, yes, but they don't want a million people to show up, and they don't revel in turning you away, and they're not trying to throw any of that in your face. It's just landing there cause you're standing on the street outside asking to get in and drink their beer, cause you think that this is what it takes to be cool.

 
At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick addendum: Anonymous -- when final clubs throw champagne parties at clubs, *you can go to those*! If anything, isn't it great when they do make an effort to throw parties that everyone can come to? Might that be further evidence that their point in joining a club isn't just to turn people away at the door?

 
At 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think anyone who argues that Final Club members don't join clubs because of the ridiculous amount of social status it gives them is either ignorant or dillusional. I know a lot of good guys in clubs, but I also know a lot of guys who that their dicks are bigger than everyone else's because some dumbass upperclassman thought they were cool when they were on the Lacrosse team together.

Final club members and just a different kind of meritocratic elite who just want to hang out seperate from everyone and have no interest in the social cache of their idiotic associations? Are you kidding me? I mean seriously...

 
At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of a student from the Harvard Extension School joining a Final Club? Is it possible?

 
At 3:31 PM, Anonymous blondee said...

I was wondering if there was a recent follow up to this discussion.

 
At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A final club is a social club. If Nerdy McReadsAlot is not social in the "final club" sense of it (you can disagree with whatever the current definition is) then he has no chance at joining for that reason alone. He lacks skills that are prized not only by the final club community but by other larger communities. Does the average student have experience interfacing with many powerful executives in a social setting?. Harvard certainly doesn't have any social development classes last I checked.

These institutions have developed over many years and to try to totally correct their problems within a short time frame is unrealistic. In fact, it's idiotic. These changes are generational in scope, ie. not in our lifetimes. Even if women are admitted to the currently all-male clubs I don't see a whole heck of a lot changing. After the initial shock and exponential rise in sexual tension and conflict, the same arguments will be levied against the privelaged by those unlucky enough to still be on the outside.

If you want to argue about meritocracy versus social networking and nepotism you might look to our current president...

PS - As a side note to the female issue, women won't bring temperance to the clubs. You could argue that point but you would be wrong.

 
At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

these are just frats. they may be old and harvardy but they are frats. get over it. big deal.

 
At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, I have to ask what is cool? I think the basic issue is that power is cool and that club membership bestows cool upon members, rather than innate cool being a requisite for admittance. Power here is derived from knowledge gained from being on the inside of a semi-secret society, having control of door policy and admittance, association with status and wealth, physical power through athleticism and membership on a team. The people that are considered cool outside of Harvard, Rivers Cuomo, the guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, Chuck D, all alumni, were not final club members. The music tastes and fashion sense of club members would likely not be approved of by the likes of New York or Los Angeles hipsters, so I think I would argue that by cool you may be confusing what is commonly considered cool here as a signifier for taste befitting the wealthy. And that is showing how Harvard is working on you, because we all rethink our own definitions when confronted with a mansion full of people with similar tastes. "If they think Dave Matthews is cutting edge, why by golly he may just be!" Or as it actually plays out, "Joe enjoys the same mild music, dapper wing tips and drinking games as I, let him join our club" Once admitted, Joe can proceed to reinforce his taste and associate that with the power of the club, as well as pick up on the signifiers of wealth such as a taste in art, expensive footwear, proper use of forks and knives, etc.

I will buy that the clubs are mostly a bastion of the wealthy; you certainly can not argue that they are poorer than the general student population. However, if the clubs did not exist, the members would likely be hanging out together in their dorms or private apartments, going to more expensive restaurants and bars, and generally being in close proximity in places where people of wealth gather. So without the clubs, you have cliques without the symbolism of the mansion but their social networks largely intact, albeit smaller and less clearly defined. With money, one can purchase a space to call your own and dominate, so I think the larger problem is the elite within an elite in the context of Harvard, which claims to be at the vanguard of a meritocracy.

Thus the issue to me is that final clubs represent a contradiction, a rotten core in the middle for those who saw the school as the highest apple on the tree. An institution that claims to want the best and brightest, with the most money, and an unarguably beautiful campus and storied history, in a country that prides itself on its meritocratic way of life and opportunity, is in fact socially dominated by the scions of the wealthy in a self-prepetuating system, and provided with more personal physical space, than the Others. Each night you see the good looking girls go there, and you hear stories about wild nights full of sex and drinking, and maybe you had to sacrifice your social life up to this point simply to get into this school, and yet you are not invited, and the high school social ladder is in place just when you thought you had reached a nirvana of like-minded people.

I say the clubs serve a vital role at the institution, and that is they inspire the non-members. I highly doubt the kids in the pork would be otherwise unemployed but for their precious club shrouded in mystery. The people inside have it made, but they had it made before they got to Harvard, and having a mansion stocked with friends, girls, beer and a butler is simply par for the course. And many members are not from great means, and are decent people that want something of a normal college experience, and for them, they are simply in the same frat as JFK. For them, why not join given the opportunity? No one has turned Harvard down for educating Admiral Yamamoto, or the Unabomber.

I mainly disagree with the point that the final clubs are subtle affirmations of status. A giant mansion parked next to the dorms is a massive endorsement of the members. I am shocked that they each do not affix a giant golden phallus to their gables. They perpetuate inequalities on purpose, they flaunt them! The clubs are self-affirmation, they are advertising their members excellence as breeding partners, and they are a castle protecting the members from the world outside. You are above the law and separate from the plebes as a member. They are unlike most frats in the disparity of wealth they represent and produce, and because for all the yearning and official statements at Harvard proclaiming meritocratic ideals and purpose, it remains true: money talks and bullshit walks. And it is a good lesson for the future leaders the school seeks to produce, cuz that is how the world works.

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why has almost no one in this whole discussion mentioned what I see as the biggest problem with final clubs?? THEY DON'T LET IN WOMEN. This is fundamentally sexist. I don't think many people can argue with that. The fact that the final clubs have all these resources ($$, connections, coolness whatever) and only extend them to men says something about what notions they have about women. People in this discussion have mentioned the Pudding. I find that the Pudding avoids a lot of the problems that final clubs run into, because they do admit women. Maybe the final clubs institutionalize things like coolness, wealth, connections, etc, but even if you value these things and think that there is some inherit merit in having these qualities, would you really say the same thing about being a man?

I'm not saying that letting in women would solve all of the problems of the final clubs, but to me it would be a HUGE step in alleviating the injustice that they perpetuate and I think we would be surprised at the degree to which it would make the campus social scene more equitable.

 

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