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Harvard social club won’t admit women — yet

Harvard University’s campus.JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/FILE

Controversy over whether to allow women to join Harvard’s exclusive all-male social clubs deepened this week when one group’s alumni members narrowly rejected a resolution to go coed.

On Thursday, the proposal fell just short — at 63.5 percent — of the necessary two-thirds majority needed to admit women to the Fox Club starting in the fall, according to an e-mail from the graduate president obtained by the Globe.

Last fall, members moved to extend provisional membership to women, and on Thursday the members voted to extend those memberships by one year.

The vote, first reported by the Harvard Crimson, is the latest development in the controversy over how to make the so-called final clubs more inclusive amid pressure from the school’s administration.

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The decision also runs counter to new Harvard guidelines, which take effect in fall 2017, that discourage membership in single-gender clubs. Under the policy, members will be barred from leading campus organizations or sports teams or receiving recommendations for prestigious academic fellowships.

The new rules incited a backlash from the clubs, but also from others including former Harvard administrators and female Harvard students.

Final clubs are not officially affiliated with Harvard and although there are also all-female clubs, university administrators have focused their attention on the eight male clubs, saying they foster an environment that leads to sexual assault.

A Harvard spokeswoman declined to comment on the Fox vote. Fox Club graduate president Hugh M. Nesbit did not respond to a request for comment. Several other Fox Club graduate members, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

The clubs occupy a distinct place in the school’s social scene and boast many prominent alumni, many of whom remain active in the club after graduation. Fox Club members have included T.S. Eliot, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and Bill Gates.

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The graduate board of the Fox Club closed its house on John F. Kennedy Street to undergraduates for a month and a half last fall after photographs of a raucous party involving nudity and alcohol circulated on the internet.

Many final clubs, especially their alumni members, have pushed back against the university’s recent campaign to have the clubs admit women, but several, including the Fox and the Spee, have obliged in some form.

The women admitted to the Fox Club last year are still provisional members and will remain so for another year as a result of Thursday’s vote.


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