Officially unrecognized Harvard College social clubs
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Social clubs exist at Harvard College that are unrecognized by Harvard itself. The oldest, dating to 1791, are the traditionally all-male final clubs. Fraternities were prominent in the late 1800s as well until their initial expulsions and then eventual resurrection off Harvard's campus in the 1990s. Beginning in 1991, all-female final clubs as well as sororities have appeared. Since 1984, none of these all-male or all-female social organizations has been recognized by the school.
While a small number of these organizations have begun to admit both sexes, most do not—the reason, in general, that Harvard College refuses to recognize them. In 2016, Harvard took a stronger stance against such "exclusionary and disempowering" organizations, by barring members of unrecognized single-sex organizations from campus leadership positions and from receiving certain types of Harvard recommendation letters.
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The historical basis for the name "final clubs" dates to the late 19th century, a time when Harvard had a variety of clubs for students of each class year. During that period, Harvard College freshmen could join a freshman club, then a "waiting club," and eventually, as they neared completion of their studies, a "final club." Hence, students of different years joined different clubs, and the "final clubs" were so named because they were the last social club a person could join before graduation. Harvard's final clubs for women date to 1991 with the founding of the Bee Club.
Many of the clubs were founded in the 19th century, after Harvard banned traditional fraternities in the 1850s. Of the final clubs still in existence (see below), only the Fox was initially founded as a final club. The Phoenix SK is the amalgam of three separate clubs: the Phoenix, the Sphinx, and the Kalumet.
Coed clubs:
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The Harvard men's final clubs trace their roots to the late 18th century, while the five all-female social clubs were founded more recently. Another women's organization, the Seneca, distinguishes itself as a "501(c)(3) nonprofit women's organization that is often misidentified as a final club."[This quote needs a citation] Several other clubs are also 501(c)(3) organizations and engage in some community service. The Bee was founded in 1991, The Seneca in 1999, Isis in 2000, Pleiades in 2002, Sabliere in 2002, and La Vie in 2008. (The co-ed Signet Society, The Harvard Crimson, The Harvard Advocate, and The Harvard Lampoon also have selective membership, but their charters define them as something other than social organizations, based on their literary or artistic characteristics.)
Eight of the male clubs own real estate in Harvard Square, with the clubhouses usually including dining areas, libraries, and game rooms. Most are staffed with chefs, stewards, and other paid personnel, and serve lunch and dinner meals at regular schedules. The Delphic Club boasts a regulation-size squash court.
The Bee Club rents space from the Fly Club at 45 Dunster Street in a building that was previously the D.U. Club (the "Duck"). The D.U. Club closed, in 1995, after an assault of a football recruit occurred at its clubhouse. The D.U. Club's graduate membership merged with the Fly in 1996. In a controversial move, the Fly did not allow former D.U. undergraduate members to integrate, and subsequently the undergraduate D.U. membership formed The Oak Club. La Vie Club rents a colonial style house on Garden Street. Recently,[when?] the Pleiades Society obtained an apartment on Waterhouse Street.
Harvard severed ties with final clubs in 1985 because of their refusal to admit women.
During the 2006 Senate hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, Senator Edward Kennedy was among those highlighting Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which had opposed admission of women into Princeton; when Kennedy's membership in the Owl Club was pointed out, Kennedy resigned from the club. That same year, Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick's membership in the Fly Club was criticized as contradictory to his image as a champion of civil rights; Patrick responded that he had left the club in the early 1980s for that reason.[Subscription required]
In the fall of 2015, Harvard President Drew Faust criticized the clubs for—as stated by C. Ramsey Fahs of The Harvard Crimson—their "alleged gender exclusivity and the potential for alcohol abuse and sexual assault on the off-campus properties." The Spee Club began admitting women in later 2015, and the Fox Club followed suit but was soon temporarily shut down as graduate board members sought to re-evaluate what it meant to be a "member of the Fox".[This quote needs a citation]
As part of an effort to marginalize organizations that "contribute to a social life and a student culture that for many on our campus is disempowering and exclusionary", a new policy provides that students entering in the fall of 2017 or later who join unrecognized single-sex organizations (such as single-sex final clubs, fraternities, and sororities) will be barred from campus leadership positions such as team captaincies, and from receiving recommendation letters from Harvard requisite for scholarships and fellowships. At least one club has protested that the new rule infringes students' right of free association, and enforcement may be stymied by the difficulty of establishing who the members of each club are. In 2016, the President and Vice President of the Undergraduate Council, Shaiba Rather and Daniel Banks spoke before the elected Faculty Council and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University to support the effort to curb gender-discrimination amongst student organizations. Their statement was the first official opinion of any elected members of the student body on the matter. As administrative officials endeavored to implement and rewrite the sanctions, Rather and Banks were drafted as hardliners against any gender discrimination between Final Clubs and the Harvard student body.  However, in November 2016, a majority of undergraduate student voters on a referendum question were in favor of repealing the sanctions (59.8%), while 30.3% were against repealing the sanctions and 9.8% abstained from voting. The vote had no immediate effect on the policy.
In response to the policy, the all-female Sablière and Seneca societies instituted gender-neutral recruitment policies in 2016. The all-male Oak Club followed suit in 2017 after reaching a "club-wide consensus".
Proposed elimination from campus life
In July 2017, a Harvard committee pointed to Bowdoin College as a model for eradicating final clubs, sororities, and fraternities from campus social life. This preliminary recommendation would have taken effect with the incoming class of 2018, so all currently enrolled students would be exempt. The transition period would have extended into May 2022 before all such organizations and social clubs would be abolished.
After the committee released its 22-page report, The Harvard Crimson reported that the committee, co-chaired by Danoff Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, had not been transparent in its deliberations or conclusions. Members of the committee, speaking anonymously, described "a process...marked by confusion, disagreement, and opacity, resulting in a report that did not necessarily capture the full committee’s views." (Hannah Natanson & Derek G. Xiao."Seven Votes: How a Harvard Committee Came to Recommend a Social Group Ban". The Harvard Crimson. July 22, 2017.) Moreover, according to The Crimson, the report misrepresented the conclusions of the committee:
According to documents reviewed by The Crimson, the decision to outlaw membership in social groups at Harvard—some over two centuries old—received only seven votes from the 27-person committee.
By contrast, two other options—one suggesting a new committee to oversee the social groups, another proposing a ban of all organizations that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, or socioeconomic status—gained 12 and 11 votes, respectively. Not every member of the committee was present at the vote.
The committee never conducted another vote after May 12. At the body’s last meeting 14 days later, the decision to ban membership in the groups had become a fait accompli: Committee members spent most of the meeting debating the finer points of the proposed social group prohibition, according to two members of the committee. No student members were in attendance.
In popular culture
- The Social Network featured both The Phoenix – S K Club and the Porcellian Club.
- The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.
- Felton, Lena K. & Wharton, Molly E. (October 10, 2013). "Female Final Clubs: A Retrospection" (online article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Francis, A.M. (2015). Secret Societies Vol. 3: The Collegiate Secret Societies of America. LULU Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-312-93285-2. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
- Mcauley, James K. (October 5, 2010). "The Men's Final Clubs". The Harvard Crimson. Archived from the original (online blog) on December 27, 2014. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Krantz, Laura (July 6, 2017). "Nine women stripped of membership in Harvard club". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
- Thorne, Gabriela (July 16, 2015). "#tbt to Going Greek" (online blog). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- "Kappa Sigma Returns to Harvard - Kappa Sigma Fraternity". February 12, 2014.
- "Sigma Alpha Epsilon — Mass Gamma".
- "Rush Hour: Greek Groups Get Popular - News - The Harvard Crimson".
- "Delta Kappa Epsilon Alpha".
- The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts Staff (2008). "La Vie Club Incorporated Summary Screen". Boston, MA: The Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, William Francis Galvin, Secretary Of The Commonwealth, Corporations Division. Archived from the original (government database entry) on June 4, 2016. Retrieved May 11, 2016.[better source needed]
- Beam, Alex (May 20, 2009). "Harvard's Vanishing Squash Courts". Vanity Fair.
- Jonathan A. Lewin (March 18, 1995). "Final Club Closed After Recruit Is Beaten In Fight". The Harvard Crimson.
- Granade, Matthew W. (February 12, 1996). "D.U., Fly Clubs Agree to Merge" (online article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- "History". The Oak Club. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
- CHC Staff (2009). "City of Cambridge, Landmarks and Other Protected Properties" (PDF). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Historical Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 6, 2012. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Saul, Stephanie (May 7, 2016). "Harvard Restrictions Could Reshape Exclusive Student Clubs". The New York Times. Note: Date of print appearance may have been May 6, 2016.
- Hemel, Daniel J. (January 18, 2006). "Kennedy Severs Final Club Ties". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
- Phillips, Frank (August 3, 2006). "Patrick says he quit The Fly Club in 1983: Nine exclusive clubs at Harvard limit membership to men. A gubernatorial candidate's link to one renews debate on elitism". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original (online article) on August 3, 2006. Retrieved May 11, 2016.(subscription required)
- Fahs, C. Ramsey (January 29, 2016). "Divided Fox Club Opens With New Policies" (online article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Delwiche, Noah J. (September 11, 2015). "In Historic Move, Spee Club Invites Women To Punch: As final clubs face pressure, one male club moves to go co-ed" (online article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Khurana, Rakesh (May 6, 2016). "Untitled letter addressed "Dear President Faust" [Opening "I write today to convey the College's recommendations for addressing the problems created for our community by the discriminatory membership policies of undergraduate unrecognized single-gender social organizations, including Final Clubs".]" (PDF, letter on stationery, from college.harvard.edu). pp. 1–4, esp. 1. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
[Quoting, end of paragraph 2, p. 1:] At a time when Harvard is preparing citizens and citizen-leaders to bring people together and embrace an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, these organizations contribute to a social life and a student culture that for many on our campus is disempowering and exclusionary.
- Fahs, C. Ramsey (May 6, 2016). "A Guide to Harvard's Relationship with Final Clubs: The Crimson gives a quick primer on the final clubs, institutions unique to Harvard, and the administration's actions toward them over this tumultuous year" (online article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- "UC Leaders Support Social Organization Sanctions at Faculty Meeting - News - The Harvard Crimson".
- "Majority of Student Voters Oppose College Sanctions in UC Ballot - News - The Harvard Crimson".
- Xiao, Derek G. (January 25, 2017). "All-Male Oak Club to Accept Women". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
- Krantz, Laura (July 31, 2017). "Harvard looks to Bowdoin as model in eradicating frats, but its decision had mixed results". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
- Grinberg, Emanuella; Kaufman, Ellie (July 14, 2017). "Harvard mulls phasing out frats, sororities, final clubs". CNN. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
- Natanson, Hannah; Xiao, Derek G. (July 22, 2017). "Seven Votes How a Harvard Committee Came to Recommend a Social Group Ban". The Crimson. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
- Wang, Amy X. "Harvard is dealing a huge blow to its secretive, male-only student clubs".
- "Making a Movie? The Final Clubs Welcome You. - Flyby - The Harvard Crimson".
- Fahs, C. Ramsey (May 6, 2016). "A Guide to Harvard's Relationship with Final Clubs: The Crimson gives a quick primer on the final clubs, institutions unique to Harvard, and the administration's actions toward them over this tumultuous year" (online news article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Harrington, Rebecca M. (March 2, 2006). "How the Final Clubbers Fool You—The Trend is Nigh" (online arts article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Hernandez, Javier C. et al. (January 17, 2006). "Kennedy Ends His Final Club Ties: Senator withdraws from Owl Club after conservatives criticized his membership" (online news article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Hemel, Daniel J. (October 24, 2005). "E-mails Offer Glimpse of Club: Isis e-mail archives reveal details of 'punch' process, relationship with Bee Club" (online news article). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Sachs, Stephen E. (October 23, 2001). "What's Wrong With Final Clubs: The Public Interest" (online opinion piece). The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2016.