Harvard College has issued a new ban on students joining “final clubs,” which are elite, off-campus social organizations that date back decades and even centuries.
Dean Rakesh Khurana — the same bureaucrat who pushed Harvard residences to drop the term “master” in favor of “faculty dean,” lest the word trigger associations with slavery — argued that the all-male and all-female clubs are “rife with power imbalances,” and recommended that students be punished for joining them.
(Though they are not the primary target, the new rules also apply to fraternities and sororities, which are also off-campus, and relatively new and few in number.)
In a letter dated May 6 to Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, Khurana laid out a set of recommended rules, which she promptly accepted. From now on, Harvard students who join single-sex clubs will not be allowed to lead sports teams or campus organizations. They will also be denied “Dean’s endorsement letters” for fellowships and scholarships, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. The changes will take effect with the incoming freshman class in the fall of 2017.
“Discrimination is pernicious,” Khurana wrote. “Stereotypes and bias take hold, normalizing bias in a community, which should be unacceptable. In this case, the discriminatory membership policies of these organizations have led to the perpetuation of spaces that are rife with power imbalances. The most entrenched of these spaces send an unambiguous message that they are the exclusive preserves of men.”
Final clubs, fraternities, and sororities are all private groups, and Harvard seems to recognize that it has no power under the Constitution to prevent freedom of association. However, it seeks to punish that association, arguably infringing on students’ freedom.
Khurana’s letter was silent about other single-sex organizations, such as women’s advocacy groups, men’s and women’s choirs, and the many intercollegiate sports teams at Harvard that are restricted to members of one sex or another.
Final clubs have long been controversial at Harvard — less because most, historically, have restricted membership to men (Harvard itself was all-male until the 1970s), and more because they represented a social elite beyond the reach of many students and beyond the control of campus authorities. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was said to have been deeply wounded by his exclusion (“blackballing”) from the Porcellian Club, and joined the Fly Club instead. Future Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s dramatized exclusion from the Porcellian is portrayed in the 2010 Hollywood film The Social Network.
In recent years, however, the number of clubs has grown, and the number of all-female clubs in particular has expanded. One reason is Harvard’s decision, in the 1990s, to randomize housing assignments for upperclassmen, largely because the college was embarrassed by the voluntary concentration of black students in a few dormitories. With no choice about which dorm to join, students have sought other ways to create community at a campus where social life is otherwise challenging and limited.
In her letter accepting Khurana’s recommendations, President Faust hinted at pressure from Black Lives Matter activists: “In recent months, we have been forcefully reminded that diversity is not equivalent to inclusion and belonging, and we have rededicated ourselves to achieving a campus where all members fully belong and thrive.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new e-book, Leadership Secrets of the Kings and Prophets: What the Bible’s Struggles Teach Us About Today, is on sale through Amazon Kindle Direct. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.