A response to The Crimson’s ‘Don’t Dismantle the Final Clubs.’
Dear Mr. Dong,
I hope this letter may serve as some reading material as you continue to sojourn in your favorite armchair within the Fly. I’m writing to you because I have a few points I’d like to make in response to your article in The Crimson earlier this week where you pleaded that Harvard shouldn’t dismantle the final clubs because “there is an important social role for final clubs at Harvard.” While I appreciate your attempts to salvage your glory days and preserve an institution that has benefitted you greatly as both an undergraduate and graduate, your arguments are weak at best and continuously try to compare apples to oranges.
I do admit that the dismantling of the final clubs isn’t the only (or even correct) solution to Harvard’s severely lacking social scene. Nor does it necessarily solve all of the problems Dean Khurana and his colleagues say it will. However, I find some of the points you make in your plea to be a gross underestimation and even a misrepresentation of the implications final clubs have on campus.
First of all, you cannot, under any circumstances, compare the ‘exclusiveness’ of cultural and gender-identity organizations on campus to the exclusivity of final clubs. How you can even think to compare organizations that sprouted out of the need for traditionally marginalized students to come together in order to make Harvard more hospitable for them to final clubs, bastions of traditionally white male privilege, is beyond me. Especially when you list the exclusiveness of BGLTQ organizations on campus that accepts people from all gender-identities whereas final clubs operate on a binary that reifies traditional presentations of gender. Additionally, none of the organizations you mentioned (“There is the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (I was a member), the Black Students Association to name a few. The Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu students all have their affinity groups. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students have a group.”) have memberships that are closed to individuals who are not invited to join. These organizations have open members, even if potential members do not even have the same identity of the group in question; they just have to be allies. These organizations also do not have the same ability to control space or access resources as the final clubs.
You also argue that students who are invited to punch have to prove their worth by competing on “social merit.” While I can see schmoozing as a talent, I don’t think the social merit you speak of has a lot to do with networking or eloquence. It is more about who one already knows and how one will fit in with current membership, which can inevitably mean continuing to let in people who will espouse and carry out the same limited social values of previous members. “Social merit” cannot be put into the same context as comping a newspaper, auditioning for a show, or trying out for a team.
A theme I notice as I read your plea to save the final clubs is that you continuously compare the male final clubs to other organizations on campus. And boy are these comparisons a stretch. You wrote that other single-gender groups like fraternities and sororities (which also aren’t recognized student organizations) are on the rise at Harvard and therefore final clubs shouldn’t bear the brunt of Dean Khurana’s ire. However, none of those organizations control as much social capital as the male final clubs, specifically the male final clubs. In addition, the final clubs are not accountable to anyone except each clubs graduate board, and I guess occasionally the Cambridge Police Department when they decide to act instead of look on the brick mansions with disdain. Fraternities and Sororities are accountable to national PanHellenic boards.
This notion of controlling space brings me to the one opinion you make in your article with which I agree. “The administration maintains that House life should be sufficient social life for its students. But while that is a good starting point, Harvard should be all about providing many options to students.” A tiny subplot to the epic narrative of Khurana’s sweeping changes to the final clubs is the fact that the college is trying to build community for students by creating more house common spaces. However, the administration should be trying to make more student common spaces. Final clubs have the power and appeal because the students control and own the space. If the control of space on campus was disaggregated, more students would be able to have their own parties and take ownership of their social scene. The overwhelmingly privileged members of final clubs shouldn’t be an oligarchy of space at Harvard.
In closing, I think that final clubs shouldn’t necessarily be dismantled, rather than be made more irrelevant to the student population. I think college administrators should do more than use the final clubs as the sole example of everything that is f*cked up about Harvard (but I will admit there are a lot messed up things about the clubs). This is not to discredit the experiences people have and continue to have (positive or negative), but instead to think of how Harvard could and should be a more equitable social scene.
Mr. Dong, you may not even read this letter, but if you do, I hope that you at least see reasons people want to see the end of final clubs.
Shaquilla Harrigan’16 (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a whole lot more to say on this issue but not enough space in this paper.