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Harvard social club revokes membership for 9 women, reverts to all-male status


A 2-year-old project of admitting women to a traditionally all-male Harvard social club, which counts T.S. Eliot and Bill Gates among its ranks, has ended abruptly with the alumni-heavy board revoking the provisional membership of all nine women.

The unexpected decision last month, first reported by The Harvard Crimson, deeply divided the Fox Club, pitting undergraduates against alumni. Membership is for life, and alumni largely control the club through its graduate board.

In addition to Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the 119-year-old Fox Club also counts among its members T.S. Eliot and Henry Cabot Lodge.

The abrupt dismissal of the nine women also underscores a festering issue over how much control Harvard should wield over off-campus student activities, with some professors and students who otherwise detest the clubs’ party culture and elitism decrying intrusion by the university, The Boston Globe reported.

In 2015, undergraduate Fox members wrote a three-page letter to graduate members saying they wanted to admit women but also felt pressured by the university to do so, according to the Globe.

In addition, some voices within all-female groups worried the change would reduce leadership opportunities for women.

Because of sharp debate within Fox's ranks, the first nine female members — along with some males — were only accepted provisionally. 

When that provisional status changed last month, the graduate board decided that the male provisional members could reapply to continue as graduate members, but did not extend that invitation to female members, the Crimson reported.

Douglas Sears, who served as president of Fox's graduate board when the women joined the club, criticized the decision to revoke membership. “Some folks certainly know how to get on the wrong side of history voluntarily,” he told the Crimson.

Harvard's growing pressure on "final clubs" and Greek organizations intensified last year when Drew Faust, Harvard's first female president, announced that undergraduates who take part in unrecognized single-gender groups would not be allowed to hold leadership positions in organizations recognized by the college.

They would also be declared ineligible for prestigious fellowships, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarship. The new rules are set to take effect in the fall of 2017, with the class of 2021, the university said in spelling out the new policy on its website.


The policy came in response to a university-wide report on sexual assault prevention and recommendations by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, The Harvard Crimsonreported.

Khurana called the tradition of keeping women out of the historically all-male final clubs a “discriminatory practice” that the college had grappled with since the 19th century.

“(T)he discriminatory membership policies of these organizations have led to the perpetuation of spaces that are rife with power imbalances,” Khurana said in a letter to Faust. “The most entrenched of these spaces send an unambiguous message that they are the exclusive preserves of men. In their recruitment practices and through their extensive resources and access to networks of power, these organizations propagate exclusionary values that undermine those of the larger Harvard College community.”

Four groups have adopted gender neutral policies, several have kept their single-gender status and at least one appears to be preparing a legal challenge.

The attempt to diminish single-gender groups, however, has caused its own rift on campus, which has not broken down cleanly between liberal and conservative viewpoints.

Three prominent female alumnae, including Eugenia Huh, the legal chair of the all-female Sabliere Society, wrote in an op-ed in the Crimson that they were "deeply worried" by the implications of the new policy, including the threat to all-female clubs that foster leadership skills among women.

"(If) all the clubs went co-ed, there is a distinct possibility female clubs will die out," they wrote. "The support systems, safe spaces and alumnae networks the women’s clubs have been striving to build will disappear. That strikes us as a tremendous waste, and an ironic one, given Harvard’s stated goals."
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