So there’s this girl, and she’s so fine and so fierce my heart does a little desire-mambo every time she walks into a room. And we’re talking on the phone the other night and I tell her about a new friend I made, who’s smart and radical and super cool, and also, I tell Ms. Desire-Mambo, “in a final club.”
This is something of a Deal for me, since I only have a couple good friends in final clubs, and isn’t it cool to analyze social structures with people who have slightly different standpoints than I do? And at this point in the conversation, Ms. Desire-Mambo kind of snorts, as if to say, "Reina, you are ridiculous,” and goes, “I’m in a final club! You’re friends with me!”
You know what the weirdest part of this story is? When she said that, I felt intimidated by her a little bit. This is a chick who knows what my boobs look like (though so does all of Adams B entryway, since I have an ideological aversion to window shades), a chick who knows about my weird sexual fantasies. We’re friends. We are Comrades. But one little mention of these institutions is enough to send me awkwardly cowering in my sparkly leggings like a gay seventeen year old who just met Penelope Cruz.
Why in fuck's name is this?
An article in the Harvard Political Review last week went pretty far in telling us why. It focused on “social exclusivity on elite campuses”—in other words, Harvard’s final clubs. It was an angry article. I can dig anger. I feel angry a lot. I feel angry when people exclude people. I feel angry about sexism. I feel angry about discrimination, and queer-bashing, and cruelty. I feel angry when pineapple is underrepresented in fruit salad. And sometimes, I feel angry about final clubs.
The article hits the critiques we’ve all heard: The structure of the male final club system causes many women to seek access through sexuality; female clubs, newer institutions, have smaller endowments and alumni networks; it can be awks to bring someone of the same gender to a date event; binary gender structures (as in bathrooms, sororities, boy scouts) are alienating to trans and gender non-binary students. Methodologically shaky data (cited in the article) tell us that final clubs absolutely contain members of color, but proportionately fewer than in the College at large. And class? The same combo of anecdotal evidence and Crimson surveys say that while a lot of working class students have great experiences at clubs, a legacy of disproportionate wealth still exists. Add to this the fact that you have to be invited to even apply for membership, and you’ve got networks that are particularly entrenched.
This stuff makes me want to weep on a regular basis. It’s nefarious, and it is structural. But here’s the thing: It’s everywhere.
Final clubs are not uniquely responsible for the problem of exclusivity on this campus, though they are particularly visible and afford specific types of access. Gender and class and race inequalities are endemic here, as they are in the broader world. This is true for the places I get my Friday night liquor—the Crimson, or the Advocate, or the Lampoon—as well as the places me and my sassy heels haven’t frequented since I was a freshman. Even Queer Students and Allies, which is dedicated to inclusivity, can feel alienating. And have you seen our admissions statistics? Do we all know that 30 percent of Harvard students come from households with incomes in the national top 2.5 percent?
With a five percent admissions rate, Harvard is predicated on exclusivity. But no one spends their Saturdays sitting in a lair with their pinkies to the corners of their mouths plotting evil. Final clubs are not monolithic; they’re a collection of institutions made of collections of people. And most people are nice. You’re nice. I’m nice. Your roommate is kind of an asshole, but that’s mostly sleep deprivation. And that’s the most important thing, and also the hardest: We can all have a bunch of feelings about final clubs as structures—I sure as hell do—and also realize that these problems are not any one person’s fault.
We have collectively inherited these systems, and all of us—having made the choice to come to Harvard—also know that choice isn’t much of a choice at all; all of us make decisions that are uncomfortable, are part of systems we don’t entirely identify with or that weren’t built for us, or have a great time in institutions that have effects we don’t want or intend. There are lots of reasons to punch a final club, just like there are lots of reasons to punch Harvard: It’s your ticket out of poverty; you like the people; your mom would be pissed if you didn’t follow in her footsteps; you really want to study folk and myth. People are smart: We know what the problems are, how we’re privileged, how we’re alienated. And we’re working on it: from the inside, from the outside, from the flipside.
Feel angry about final clubs. But don’t stop there. Because each of us is immersed in the big historical shitshow of this campus, and its big historical triumphs. Final clubs are a special shitshow that make me feel particularly too gay to function, but punch or not, we’re all dealing with this place. And the hard work of inclusivity—of thinking and talking and writing and legislating the fact that every single person matters—is everyone’s job.
So start in your final club. Start in your foosball tournament. Start in your goddamn common room. But for fuck's sake, start somewhere.
Reina A.E. Gattuso ‘15, an FM editor, is a joint literature and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.