Harvard’s Final Clubs and Cultures of Exclusivity

Check out my new piece at Time about Harvard’s final clubs — and why they represent a legacy of exclusivity that has no place in the 21st century University.

Walking down Massachusetts Avenue on a Friday night was always an exercise in exclusion. This main drag through Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Mass., has the rare distinction of being home to many of Harvard’s final clubs: Elite, mansion-owning, semi-secret, all-male social societies governed and funded by some of Harvard’s most powerful alumni. Every Friday and Saturday night, the mansions light up with opulent parties to which most of us can only dream of being invited. These parties aren’t just a question of free booze: To me and to many of my peers, they symbolize both the mythical elite class we so long to tap into as Harvard students and the searing sense of alienation that so many of us—at least those who did not come from private school, from racial privilege or the 1%—feel at the high-powered institution.

In March, results of a survey came out linking the clubs—which frequently serve as male-controlled party spaces—to instances of sexual assault. Subsequently, administrators urged the final clubs to gender integrate, threatening administrative action for noncompliance. Predicting this administrative pressure, a few clubs have recently opted to go co-ed. Others, however, have been far more recalcitrant.

Typical of this recalcitrance is a statement recently issued by Charles M. Storey, the Graduate Board President of one of the oldest and most “esteemed” of these organizations, the Porcellian Club (PC). Storey’s statement is the club’s most extensive public message since its founding in 1791. Accordingly, his ideas seem to come right out of that era. He argues that administrative action against student membership in the exclusionary clubs is “McCarthyism.” Meanwhile, he says, admitting women “could potentially increase, not decrease, the incidence of sexual assault on campus.” Dear Mr. Storey, please tell me: Do you really think men are so inherently violent they can’t possibly stop themselves from raping their female peers if they are placed near them? Clearly, we have a serious gender problem.

Find the whole article here

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