An exclusive social club at Harvard University that was poised to admit women for the first time has been closed by its board of university alumni until at least next year following a raucous party, according to club leaders.
The Nov. 13 Fox Club party was attended by the group’s first-ever class of prospective female members. It included nudity, alcohol, and “women in shark costumes,” according to one alumni member who was not at the party but who said he saw photos taken at the bash.
Images from the event circulated on the Internet but were quickly removed, said the member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of club secrecy rules.
The decision to close one of Harvard’s eight so-called “final clubs” came two weeks after the Fox revealed it would admit women, breaking with more than a century of tradition.
The decision caused tension between undergraduate and alumni leaders. Undergraduates, who run the club day-to-day, said they felt pressured by university leaders to go co-ed by Nov. 1. Some alumni members, who have a broader role overseeing the club, wanted more time to consider the change.
Amid pressure to curb sexual assaults on campus and promote gender equality, Harvard administrators have pressured the traditionally all-male clubs, which operate independently of the university, to accept women and take steps to prevent assaults at the groups’ off-campus houses.
Harvard president Drew Faust told the Crimson newspaper in September that there have been concerns about alcohol use, safety, and sexual assaults in the clubs. “A lot of these issues that are very much at the heart of our considerations about undergraduate life have a special valence and relationship to the final clubs,” she said.
The Fox Club, whose members have included T.S. Eliot, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and Bill Gates, said it believes the school is “unfairly scapegoating the final clubs for Harvard’s poor performance on sexual assault issues,” according to a letter from the club’s undergraduate leaders published in the Crimson.
That letter said Fox Club had been contemplating accepting women for more than a year and had begun to consider logistical concerns that could arise. A memo obtained by the Globe discusses how to alter nude segments of initiation ceremonies, whether women should be allowed to bring male dates upstairs at the club’s house on John F. Kennedy Street, and how to designate bathrooms for females.
The Fox Club is scheduled to remain closed until at least Jan. 1. The initiation of new members that was planned for Nov. 14, the day after the party, has been postponed, according to an e-mail from the board of directors of the Fox Club Graduate Association, which added that the club was closed after “conduct unbecoming” by members.
“All of us need a little time and space to reflect on what it means to be a member of the Fox,” Hugh M. Nesbit, president of the association, wrote in a separate e-mail sent to members.
The club’s graduate association discussed the party at a special meeting Sunday night at the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge, according to two members who attended.
Douglas W. Sears, a 1969 graduate and president of the Fox’s graduate board, said he had no comment on the closure. “These organizations close down from time to time,” he said.
Undergraduate club president Daniel Skarzynski did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
After the Crimson broke the news Monday on the club’s closing, the university issued a statement saying it expects all student groups, officially recognized or otherwise, “will create safe social environments.”