Harvard’s Battle with Unrecognized Single-Gender Organizations

October 6, 2017

In May 2016, Harvard’s President, Drew Faust, issued a sanction. Beginning with the Class of 2021, any student participating in an unrecognized single-gender organization would not be eligible for any leadership positions in recognized organizations, nor will they be nominated for scholarships, such as the Rhodes Scholarship. In July 2017, a committee that looked deeper into this issue suggested the complete banning of students from joining unrecognized single-gender organizations. In a more recent report, they have tempered this suggestion, but still support sanctions.


Photo: Jan Kolar (www.kolar.io) on Unsplash  


So what does any of that mean, and who is affected by sanctions? At Harvard, there are three main types of unrecognized single-gender organizations. There are fraternities, sororities, and final clubs. A handful of Harvard’s Greek organizations that lie on the outskirts of the campus, and are not the main targets of this policy, will still feel the effects of it. The main group that administration has declared war on are the final clubs.


While there are both all-male and all-female final clubs, the all-male clubs are the ones that hold the most prominent role on campus, and they are the most problematic groups in the eyes of the administration, as well as many students. These clubs are secretive, rich, and exclusive groups of men who hang out and throw parties in their million dollar club houses. Most have selective “punch” processes, in which a group of select sophomores are invited into the clubs. The clubs are only overseen by their Alumni Boards, and nobody else. Because of this, the school has no direct control over them.


Final clubs have been a part of Harvard since the Porcelain was founded in 1789. When students are lucky enough to get invited into a club, they’ll see wood paneled rooms, leather furniture, grand staircases, pictures of past members, and expensive rare objects. With their grand staircases and Tiffany lamps, it feels like stepping back into a time when only the richest white men in the country could even dream of studying at Harvard. Through the cigar induced haze, it is easy to see why the final clubs are seen as symbols of great elitism that the college wants to rid itself of. The clubs are very selective and expensive, meaning that their members are usually rich guys with friends already in the club. Many of them host parties, but only girls are allowed in, and they often have lists of who exactly can come in.


While it still remains a bit foggy as to whether the sanctions are meant to combat sexual assault, which is more prevalent in the male dominated clubs, or the overall elitism of the entire affair, they are making a large impact. Several clubs are now going co-ed, or merging with female final clubs. But other clubs, however, are planning to fight the sanctions, possibly through legal action. We will just have to wait to see how much the sanctions will affect the willingness of the Class of 2021 to engage in final clubs and other unrecognized single-gender organizations. For now, the battle between the organizations and the administration continues to rage on.


Hi, my name is Kathryn Kuhar and I am a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard College studying Government. A fun fact about me is that I’ve lived in Hawaii, California, Belgium, and Turkey.


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