The music has been turned up so loud that you can feel it vibrating through your body. Red cups lose their color as your high reaches its height. You see four girls for every boy. Hands run up limp limbs. A sea of collared, Caucasian homogeneity dips and sways in front of you. Upstairs doors close and are locked from the inside. Pills float in mixed drinks. The word “fun” is tossed about as crowds exit in the early morning hours.
For many college students, the frat party is an all-too-familiar scene. But the party I was picturing is slightly different than its omega, sigma, and alpha counterparts. This party and its hosts act in accordance with fraternities across the country, supplying copious amount of alcohol and cocaine to partygoers, mainly girls. But this party bears esteem and exudes a reputation far greater than the Epsilons of the world. This is a final club party at Harvard University.
The final clubs at Harvard are a white-dominated, all-male, prep school paradise. They are the university’s closest equivalent to fraternities. There are currently six all-male clubs still operating: the A.D. Club, the Delphic, the Fly, the Owl, the Phoenix, and the Porcellian. Alumni include several Kennedy’s, Teddy Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and Matt Damon.
According to Harvard students, the portrayal of these clubs in the Oscar-winning movie The Social Network was incredibly accurate-- down to the pill-popping and party waitstaff. However, these clubs have not been officially affiliated with Harvard since 1984.
Earlier this month, the university announced that, starting with the class of 2021, members of the school’s elite final clubs will not be eligible to head student clubs, be recommended for fellowships, or captain sports teams. The university has chosen this path since it lacks any official leverage to affect change internally at the clubs.
This statement was put out in response to a report released by Harvard’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault. The report states, “Female Harvard College students participating in Final Club activities are more likely to be sexually assaulted than participants in any other of the student organizations we polled.”
The report from the Task Force pushed for gender integration of the final clubs. However, the club members balked at this suggestion, revealing the “deeply misogynistic attitudes” still prevalent amongst its members. The refusal to integrate by final clubs forced the university to act.
While Harvard’s actions are laudable and bold—a necessary reaction to the misogynistic comments from male members—are they enough? I am unsure if the punishments will have any effect on the level of sexual assaults in Cambridge. I believe that within the final clubs the disrespect is too deep, the tradition is too trained, and the pomp is too pleasing for the culture to change. The most recent administrative actions could send the likes of final clubs underground and not deter the elitist clubs from continuing their promiscuities and illegalities. Where there is disrespect for the wives, mothers, and daughters of the world, there is sexual abuse and assault.
Studies have shown that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted during their four years at university. I commend Harvard for taking steps to minimize that number, but the problem is much deeper. As the Harvard Task Force has shown, these clubs are a hotbed for assault. The source of these attacks is not the plentiful supply of alcohol and drugs, the off-campus location, or the handsome smooth-talking members. The source is the misogyny and conditioned disrespect fostered by the all-male, elitist clubs.
I believe that the university’s prestige may be enough to pioneer a national administrative pushback against frat-like clubs. By making participation consequential, Harvard is taking legitimate actions against the sexual assault prone culture of these all-male groups. The question still remaining is if these legitimate actions will have substantive results. As a female college student across the Charles, I sure hope so.