In 1791 Harvard Final Clubs began what would become a storied history with the establishment of the Porcellian (P.C); the first of what would become eight, illustrious, all-male, Harvard Final Clubs. Fast forward over 200 years later, and one of these exclusive all-male Harvard Final Clubs, Spee, is breaking tradition and inviting women to “punch” which is a Harvard College yearly selection process for new members; a secretive process where prospective club members are vetted to see who will be ultimately invited to join the club.
A Final Club is an undergraduate social club at Harvard College. They serve as the social scene of the crème-de-la-crème of Harvard undergrads, housed in clubhouses which feature dining halls, libraries, and game rooms. The eight all-male clubs include: Porcellian (the oldest, Teddy Roosevelt was a member); Spee (John F. Kennedy was a member); Phoenix (featured in “The Social Network”); Delphic (Matt Damon was a member); Owl; Fly; A.D.; and, Fox. Starting in 1991, five all-female clubs were also established at Harvard College.
In March of 2015, the Spee Club came under scrutiny from the University because of an invitation to one of its parties that suggested that women who attend should dress in lingerie for the party. Many on campus believe that the move for the Spee to invite women to “punch” comes because of this backlash. Harvard University President Drew Faust stated “To have certain groups that can dispense privilege and advantage in very significant ways that exclude individuals from membership is very troubling,” she told the Harvard Crimson.
So, this past week the traditional Final Club punches were delivered. A punch, historically, is an invitation to male sophomores to come to a reception hosted by the club. As featured in “The Social Network”, a student gets punched when a letter is put under their door inviting them to the reception. This age-old punch process begins every fall and lasts about six weeks, wherein a series of social events are held by the club members to get to know punchees, or prospective club members.
This year, the Spee Club, for the first time in Harvard history, invited women to participate in its punch process. Spee Club president Matthew E. Lee ’16 confirmed to The Harvard Crimson that the club’s members had “voted to welcome all genders in their Fall Punch.” Incidentally, Spee was the first club to punch African-Americans as well. Emotions were mixed at Harvard this week, starting with surprise at this historic move, and followed by national media fascination. The common sentiment seems to be two-fold. First, while women were invited to punch Spee, it appears that women were punched based on aesthetics. Second, some see this as progress, and others feeling that tradition is tradition and thus are unsure of this monumental change.