In a historic move, one of Harvard’s all-male social clubs has decided to invite women as prospective members, drawing praise from administrators who said they hope other clubs will follow suit.
The Spee Club is one of eight groups known as final clubs, bastions of old-boy exclusivity that for centuries have been open only to men. This year, Spee members will invite female students to participate in Spee’s “punch” process, an affair similar to rushing for a fraternity, according to Matthew E. Lee, club president. The change was first reported by the Harvard Crimson.
The clubs, which operate independently of Harvard, have faced increased scrutiny on campus. University President Drew Faust told the Harvard Crimson this week that the university’s commitment to embracing diversity does not square with the elite groups’ exclusivity.
“I think those [inclusive] ideals are sitting uneasily with the segregation of certain groups, the self-segregation of certain groups into final clubs,” Faust told the newspaper.
Spee’s decision follows two other recent developments at Harvard regarding gender equality.
The university announced last week that it will allow students to choose preferred gender pronouns. Female students at Harvard are also pushing to be allowed to perform in the male-only burlesque shows performed by the storied student theater group Hasty Pudding Theatricals.
Final clubs at Harvard boast elite alumni, including Rockefellers, Roosevelts, and Lodges. The Spee alumni list includes John F. Kennedy. Former governors Deval Patrick and William Weld were members of The Fly Club, though Patrick has said he cut ties with the club in 1983.
The Spee Club’s decision does not guarantee that women will ultimately be invited to join the club. New members are selected after the “punch” process. It is unclear how many women were punched during first round of the recruitment process this week.
Annie Schugart, a sophomore from Kansas City and vocal advocate for women’s rights at Harvard, said the next question is whether women will actually be admitted to Spee.
“I think it’s in general just kind of signifiying a change on campus that things are actually happening. It’s about 50 years late but we’re finally making some progress in terms of women’s rights and women’s equality on campus,” she said.
On Friday, Lee, the club president, did not comment beyond a text-message confirmation that “we have opened punch to all genders.”
Harvard officially broke ties with the clubs in 1984, after the clubs refused the university’s request that they admit women. However, administrators in recent years have worked with clubs to discuss alcohol safety and sexual assault prevention.
Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, who oversees undergraduate affairs, said in an interview that he was “uplifted” by the decision. He thanked the leadership of Spee, and said he hopes other clubs will follow.
Khurana said he was rushing into a meeting, and did not have time to comment more broadly on whether final clubs belong at Harvard. “At the college we always are encouraging our student organizations to contribute in ways that align with the mission,” the dean said.
The president of Spee’s graduate board, Arthur C. Anton Jr., said alumni participated in the decision to allow women. The role of the independent social organizations is evolving, he said, defending them as providing “fulfilling” experiences. “We’re just in the process of doing the right thing. This is a game-changing decision,” he said.
There are also several all-women social clubs at Harvard. Valerie Jackson cofounded the nonprofit, all-female group The Seneca Inc. in 1999.
“Whenever an organization expands opportunities for Harvard College students, whether socially, educationally or professionally, that is a step in the right direction,” Jackson wrote in an e-mail to the Globe on Friday.