After Decades Of Resistance, Harvard Final Club Invites Women To ‘Punch’

For the first time in the school’s history, a Harvard University final club has invited women to participate in its recruitment process. This is the first of the school’s eight all-male clubs to offer co-ed admission.

Since their inception, the undergraduate social clubs have been gender specific. Undergraduates have recently begun receiving “punches,” or invitations to join a given club. This year, one of the prominent male final clubs—the Spee—has begun including females in the punching process.

The 163-year-old organization is known for being relatively progressive, especially compared to its seven counterparts. The Spee admitted Catholics at the turn of the 20th century, Jews in the 1930s, and blacks in the 1960s, according to The New York Times. The Spee’s decision to invite women to participate this year will change the dynamic of the traditional punching process.

Harvard final clubs are known for their exclusivity and prestige, as well as their extensive networking opportunities. The clubs host several events in the fall before cutting down a pool of some-200 prospective members and ultimately extending membership offers to a couple dozen.

While the clubs operate independently of the Harvard administration, final clubs have been constantly under scrutiny by the University. In 1984, Harvard demanded that the all-male clubs start admitting women, but the clubs decided to sever all ties with the University and move off-campus.

“The administration has been buckling down on [the final clubs],” said Annie Schugart, a member of Harvard’s class of 2018.

Some speculate that the Spee has decided to begin including women in order to modernize and reshape the identity of the final clubs. In doing so, the clubs are taking steps to improve their historically tumultuous relationship with the administration. Other male clubs have discussed admitting women in the past, but alumni have historically resisted the change.

“There is a strong sense that it’s an idea whose time has come, given the role of women in the classroom and the world of work after Harvard,” John Hanson, the vice president of the Spee’s graduate board said in an interview with The New York Times.

The Spee has been relatively quiet about these changes. According to an article by The Harvard Crimson, potential members would face automatic disqualification if they spoke to the press about the current punching process.

Harvard banned fraternities in the 19th century, and with this policy change, final clubs gained prominence. Without the charter of a fraternity, the final clubs could function in a similar way and maintain brotherhood without the title.

Currently, the final clubs are referred to as unrecognized student groups, yet their alumni networks and general amenities make them some of the most sought-out organizations for Harvard students. Students do not approach the clubs—the clubs seek out their potential members. The clubs are exclusively for members and preapproved guests and offer professionally cooked meals, ornate study spaces, and other amenities. Often, these clubs will throw socials that are open to the general student body, though they frequently have an invitation-only policy.

“Final clubs are still a prominent part of social life for people who aren’t in them,” Schugart said. “Even if you’re not in a final club, you can go to events.”

Spee Club alumni include former United States presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, as well as the Winklevoss twins, who sued Mark Zuckerburg over the founding of Facebook.

Women at Harvard have the option of choosing from five all-female social clubs, but until now have only been able to enter the male equivalents as guests.

Chensiyuan / Wikimedia Commons

September 30, 2015