In Most Extensive Comments in Centuries, Porcellian Club Criticizes Final Club Scrutiny
Defending the club, Porcellian Graduate President details socioeconomic diversity of the membership
UPDATED: April 13, 2016, at 12:21 p.m.
The Porcellian Club, Harvard’s oldest final club, broke its public silence Tuesday for the first time in recent memory to criticize College administrators for their recent efforts to make final clubs go co-ed and modify membership policies.
“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time an officer of the PC has granted an on the record statement to a newspaper since our founding in 1791,” Storey wrote in an email. “This reflects both the PC’s abiding interest in privacy and the importance of the situation.” The Crimson published an article in 1984 including brief comments from the undergraduate president.
In a tone modulating between restrained and pointed, Storey’s statement defended the Porcellian’s single-gender character, broadly outlined the club’s financial aid program and diversity of its membership, and called for Harvard affiliates to “come together and ask the College to protect freedom of association at Harvard.”
Storey’s statement comes one day before a planned Wednesday meeting between Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and final clubs’ graduate board leadership, the first since a University-wide report excoriated final clubs for perpetuating “a culture often inimical to Harvard’s mission.”
The language of Storey’s statement was, at times, similarly severe.
“I sincerely hope that the administration will not set the precedent of creating a ‘blacklist’ of organizations that students cannot join,” Storey wrote. “Such McCarthyism is a dangerous road that would be a blow to academic freedom, the spirit of tolerance, and the long tradition of free association on campus.”
Storey also wrote that the Porcellian believes it “is being used as a scapegoat for the sexual assault problem at Harvard despite its policies to help avoid the potential for sexual assault.”
The Porcellian, which claims U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes among its membership, has a long-standing members-only policy that bars guests from entering their Massachusetts Avenue clubhouse. That policy, Storey wrote, “greatly reduce[s] the potential for sexual assault.”
However, citing qualitative and quantitative data, the University’s sexual assault prevention task force sharply criticized male final clubs for a high prevalence of “nonconsensual sexual contact.” Among undergraduate female seniors “participating in the Final Clubs”—including women who attend male final club events and seniors who are members of female final clubs—47 percent reported having experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact,” according to a University-wide sexual climate survey.
While Storey wrote that he “unequivocally” supports the University’s aim of reducing sexual assault on campus, he added that to the best of his knowledge “no allegation of sexual assault has ever been made against the Porcellian Club.” “Sexual misconduct is absolutely unacceptable in all its forms but it is not an issue at the Porcellian Club,” he added.
Overall, Storey argued that the report conflated “the issues of sexual assault, gender equity, and exclusivity.”
Steven E. Hyman, the Chair of the Task Force which produced the report, declined to comment on Storey’s criticism of the report.
“Given our policies, we are mystified as to why the current administration feels that forcing our club to accept female members would reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus,” Storey wrote. “Forcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.”
Khurana declined to address Storey’s criticisms directly, writing that he would “not comment directly on a statement that I have not seen.” Still, he restated the College’s criticism of single-gender social clubs.
“The College has for many months made it clear that the behaviors and attitudes espoused by unrecognized single gender social organizations at Harvard College remain at odds with the aspirations of the 21st century society to which the College hopes and expects our students will contribute,” Khurana wrote in an emailed statement.
“In addition, as stewards and trustees of Harvard College and role models to our students, the College has a responsibility to protect our values and our students’ well-being, even in the face of perceived short-term challenges of changing the status quo,” he added.
The Porcellian’s statement disagreed and defended single gender organizations. “We believe in the need for, and the value of, single gender institutions for men and women as a supplement and option to coeducational institutions,” Storey wrote.
Storey wrote that the Porcellian has not entirely ruled out a co-ed move, but believes such a choice would fall beyond the purview of College administrators.
“As a club that is completely independent of Harvard, which accepts no funding from Harvard, which owns its own property, and believes fervently in the right to self-determination, that decision is ours, not Harvard’s, to make,” he wrote.
Storey also defended the club’s membership make-up, writing that members are “elected without regard to socioeconomic background, religion, national origin, race or sexual orientation” and that the Porcellian’s membership “reflects the diversity of the male population of Harvard College.”
The Porcellian also offers some form of financial aid—consisting of a dues deferral program—to almost half of its undergraduate members, according to Storey.
The Porcellian’s statement come at a time of intense administrative scrutiny for Harvard’s historically-independent and traditionally all-male final clubs. The all-male A.D. Club recently adopted a no-guest policy similar to the Porcellian’s.
Khurana has adopted a much sharper tone toward the clubs than his predecessors since he began his tenure in the fall of 2014. Last semester, both the Spee Club and the Fox Club added women to their ranks, though the Fox Club’s female members still hold “provisional” membership.
Despite the ramp-up in administrative pressure, Khurana has largely chosen to stay silent on his plans for single-gender social organizations, emphasizing only that “there is nothing off the table.”
Storey wrote that Khurana has been similarly non-specific in responding to questions from graduate board presidents.
“Since we heard that the University was considering taking some form of action against the independent final clubs… we have reached out to University officials to discuss the matter,” he wrote. “Our efforts have gone unanswered. The Administration has declined to respond to our most basic questions.”
He wrote that the club had questioned whether new rules would be “equally applied” to fraternities, sororities, male final clubs, and female final clubs, and whether new rules would differentiate between organizations that host parties, and those “like the Porcellian Club, the AD, and the sororities” which do not.
Storey and other clubs’s graduate leadership will meet with Khurana Wednesday, according to an emailed invitation from Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich.
—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 13, 2016
A previous version of this article indicated that The Porcellian Club made its first public statements to a newspaper since its founding. In fact, while these are its most extensive comments in its history, The Crimson briefly quoted members of the PC several decades ago.
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