Harvard Report on Sex Assaults Targets Final Clubs

March 9, 2016

A Harvard University panel on Tuesday released a report of recommendations on preventing and dealing with sex assaults -- and a major emphasis was the university's final clubs, which are private groups, some with significant wealth and facilities and most of which admit only male students. Many of the other recommendations are similar to those issued at other colleges: more detailed policies, more education of students and others on those policies, and so forth.

But Harvard's panel placed a strong emphasis on these clubs, noting that surveys have found many female undergraduates associate them with a hostile, sexist environment, and the clubs are disproportionately the location of alleged alcohol abuse and sexual assaults of female students. The panel recommended that the university develop plans to deal with the clubs and that Harvard take steps to encourage all of them to admit women.

"We heard reports from students of a strong sense of sexual entitlement within some of the male final clubs, stemming in part from the members’ control of social spaces that are imbued with a certain historical tradition and that elevate members’ social status on campus," the report says in a section called "Further Observations on Final Clubs." "A woman’s physical appearance is often seen as the basis for entry to these spaces, and female students described a general expectation that entering final club spaces could be read as implicit agreement to have sexual encounters with members. We understand that many of the clubs typically exclude nonmember men from parties, which gives an unambiguous frame to social events, eliminates nonmember male bystanders and enables a gender ratio that makes it easier for members to have a sexual encounter. Party themes and invitations have reflected a misogynistic view of women and reinforced a sense of sexual entitlement. Students pointed to competitive games between members where a man will 'win' a particular woman or compete for the most sexual triumphs."

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