By Sabrina Gharib Lee
The Final Club Campaign was officially launched in October 2010 when forty students involved in our initiative “fake-punched” over five thousand Harvard undergraduates in one night, inviting them to participate in a discussion about social space. However, the seeds of this initiative were planted far before the current school year. Our campaign evolved out of conversations with other students that began almost as soon as we arrived on campus as first-years. These conversations varied widely in their content, touching on anxieties about the final club punch process, disappointment with the lack of social options on campus, frustration with Harvard’s alcohol policy, and anger stemming from the still pervasive issue of sexual assault on campus. Despite these differences in focus, the conversations that laid the foundation for this campaign shared one major characteristic: they all expressed frustration with the disparity between what Harvard’s social scene is now and what we would like it to be.
Members of our campaign came together to address this disparity and to act on the shared convictions that Harvard’s social scene fails to meet the student demand for numerous, large social spaces, and that existing options can be discriminatory, exclusive, and unsafe. The coordinators of this campaign aspired to represent student concern with these issues as they relate to all social spaces on and off campus, choosing to focus on male final clubs as they are one of the most widely used social spaces frequented by Harvard students. Based on our own experiences in these spaces as well as other students’, our coordinating team identified a two-part problem facing Harvard’s social scene. First, there are too few options available to Harvard students, forcing many to socialize in extremely small dorm rooms, to lead more subdued social lives, or to socialize in places where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Second, the scarcity of social space available to Harvard students results in discriminatory, exclusive and unsafe dynamics in existing social spaces; in particular, the stranglehold that a small population of undergraduates possesses over these spaces can result in the systematic exclusion of certain students from existing social spaces as well as the emergence of power dynamics that encourage unsafe behaviors.
Our campaign emerged in an effort to address these issues and to shape an alternative Harvard social scene that would embody the values of accessibility, safety and inclusivity. Over the course of the last six months, we have taken steps to realize this vision by creating space for dialogue about social space, developing cooperative partnerships with officers from male final clubs, and increasing students’ ability to make informed decisions about where they socialize. Throughout the fall semester, we hosted three dialogues in which representatives from popular social spaces—such as final club members, Dudley co-op residents, and HoCo members—discussed the flaws in Harvard’s social scene and the trajectory of the Final Club Campaign. Furthermore, our campaign has worked with the administration and final club members to develop a Committee on Student Life (CSL) subcommittee comprised of administrators, male final club presidents and coordinators of our campaign dedicated to issues surrounding final clubs and social space more generally. Finally, our campaign has sought to increase students’ ability to make informed decisions about where they socialize by designing a soon-to-be-launched website where students can participate in discussions, read articles related to social space on campus, and share written testimonies about their experiences in different social spaces on and off campus.
As we look forward to the next year, members of our campaign and newly established student group, Harvard College Students for Safe Space, look forward to building on these achievements and taking additional steps toward shaping an alternative Harvard social scene more reflective of our values as a student body. The official endorsements we have received from the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), Queer Students and Allies (QSA), and the Undergraduate Council (UC) and our partnerships with these organizations will be critical in this process: with increased support from the student body, we will be better equipped to take further steps to make Harvard’s social scene safer, more inclusive and more accessible. Specifically, we hope to work with the administration to incorporate discussions about social space and safety into orientations for first-years and sophomores, to make public both the University’s stance on final clubs and information related to sexual assault in different social spaces frequented by Harvard students, and to increase the number of meaningful alternatives to final clubs available to Harvard students by expanding student-initiated program funding and opening up existing space on campus for social purposes.
At the heart of this campaign and its aspirations is the conviction that space, safety and community are intimately related. Our campaign recognizes the current status of social space at Harvard as both detrimental to student community development and unsafe. We envision an alternative social scene—one that better reflects our values as a student body and in which students can freely come together as an inclusive and safe community. We believe that we can make this vision a reality by taking the steps we have outlined as a campaign and call on all students to become our allies and partners in this effort.