For the first time, one of Harvard’s exclusive, all-male social clubs says it has included women in its class of new members, breaking with more than a century of tradition after years of debate.
The undergraduate board of the Fox Club, one of eight so-called “final clubs” at the university, voted earlier this academic year to begin offering admittance to women. Fox Club president Daniel Skarzynski said the group admitted nine female members this year.
“This has been a long decision-making process, which has been discussed since September of last year amongst the undergraduates,” Skarzynski said in an e-mail. “The decision to take concrete action was formalized by a series of undergraduate votes earlier this academic year.”
The issue of making the elite, private clubs coed has long been a contentious one at Harvard. In 1984, the clubs refused the school’s request that they admit women, leading administrators to sever official ties with the groups.
In recent months, though, a thaw had become apparent among some of the organizations amid pressure from the college, which has been in continued discussions with the clubs over alcohol safety and sexual assault prevention.
The Spee Club in September announced plans to invite female students to participate in the “punch” process, similar to rushing for a fraternity.
Matthew E. Lee, president of the Spee Club, said that the club’s punch process is still ongoing and he would not comment on whether any female students had been accepted yet.
Though the Fox Club and other final clubs are independent, Skarzynski said, the college has power because of its sway over student affairs.
He pointed to a decision last year by Amherst College trustees that barred students from on- or off-campus fraternities, sororities, and other similar organizations.
The university has made clear its desire to have “a more open and gender-inclusive social environment on campus,” Skarzynski said, and has urged the Fox Club and other groups to be a part of that change.
Nonetheless, he said, the group — whose alumni include Bill Gates, former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, and T.S. Eliot — is ready to make the change.
“External pressure did not precipitate the decision, but rather motivated us to expedite the decision-making process so that we could make this transition in a careful and thoughtfully considered manner, rather than in reaction to any mandate the university may issue,” he said.
In a statement, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana praised the Fox Club, stating that the “decision contributes to strengthening the inclusive and diverse community the college and our students are seeking to create.”
He said in the statement that he could not discuss the specifics of his talks with the final groups.
“In order to respect the confidential and ongoing nature of our meetings, the college will not address the specifics of our conversations with the individual clubs,” Khurana said. “However, we have provided discussion concepts around how social organizations at Harvard can become better aligned with the important mission of the college.”