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Sex assault prevention report highlights Harvard ‘final clubs’

Harvard University’s campus in Cambridge.
Lisa Poole/Associated Press/File
Harvard University’s campus in Cambridge.

A new report by a Harvard University task force on sexual assault prevention singles out male-only final clubs as a key force perpetuating sexual assaults among students.

The report, released Tuesday, offers recommendations on how the university can reform its culture to prevent sexual assaults, including more student training about sexual assault prevention and more on-campus social events that are open to everyone.

The document spends considerable length on final clubs, saying that after dormitories, they are the location where a student is most likely to experience sexual assault. Without giving specifics, the report asks Harvard for a plan on how it will address sexual assault problems in the clubs.

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“Cultures that reflect male control and exclusivity encourage the marginalization of women and assumptions about sexual entitlement,” said the 20-page report from the task force, made up of 18 faculty, staff, and students.

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Final clubs are off-campus social organizations not officially affiliated with the university. Most are male-only — although there are some female-only clubs — and are known for secretive traditions and raucous parties.

The report throws its support behind a push this year by undergraduate administrators for the all-male clubs to admit women. Some clubs have said they felt coerced and others have resisted.

The report released Tuesday is the final product of the task force, which was formed in 2014, the same year federal investigators began scrutinizing Harvard for failing to properly handle sexual assault allegations.

That investigation is ongoing, but in the meantime the university has begun to reform its policies and services.

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“The clear and powerful call for the university to address issues presented by final clubs relates not only to sexual assault but also to the implications of gender discrimination, gender assumptions, privilege, and exclusivity on our campus,” Harvard President Drew Faust wrote in an e-mail to the school community Tuesday to announce the report.

Undergraduate Dean Rakesh Khurana noted final clubs as a particular concern in his own e-mail. The college will develop a plan to address the task force’s recommendations by the end of the academic year, he said. Khurana’s wife, Stephanie, is a task force member.

The recommendations about final clubs are based on data the school collected from a campuswide sexual assault survey as well as follow-up interviews.

The survey found that 47 percent of female college seniors who participated in final club activities experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since entering college, compared with 31 percent of all female college seniors, which the task force said suggests women are more likely to experience sexual assault if they are involved with a final club.

According to the survey results, 87 percent of female victims of sexual assault occurred in dormitories, compared with 16 percent in spaces used by single-sex organizations, which could include final clubs.

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In interviews, students reported unwelcome advances and involuntary sexual encounters involving club members on dance floors, in hallways, and in private rooms at the clubs, the report said.

Party themes and invitations have reflected misogynistic views of women and students said competitive games between members feature women as the prize.

“A woman’s physical appearance is often seen as the basis for entry to these spaces,” the report said.

The clubs are also ripe for underage drinking, the report found.

It also recommends mandatory annual training for students on alcohol use and healthy sexuality.

The committee recommended creating a new position in the provost’s office to oversee prevention efforts. The university should offer additional resources to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, as well as those who are questioning their sexual identity, especially at the graduate and professional schools, the report said.

Some students on Tuesday said the other recommendations are more important than the lengthy section about final clubs.

“Obviously final clubs are a big problem, but sexual violence happens everywhere on campus,” said Jessica Fournier, a junior and organizer in the group Our Harvard Can Do Better.

Fournier commended the goal of mandatory training about Harvard’s policies for reporting and handling sexual assault allegations, saying that has long been an overlooked problem.

Daniel Banks, a junior and vice president of the Undergraduate Council, said even though final clubs are not officially part of Harvard, they play a major role in campus social life.

“I’m not surprised that they addressed them at all, I’m a little bit surprised the extent to which they addressed them,” Banks said.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.