Harvard Final Club fights back
By Evan Lips | May 2, 2016, 20:12 EDT
CAMBRIDGE – Harvard College’s Final Clubs, the exclusive social institutions unaffiliated with the Ivy League university but targeted by administrators over sexual assault data, are fighting back.
In March, a school task force on campus assault released a report that ripped the undergraduate school’s six all-male clubs, blaming them for sexual assault on campus and asserting that “female Harvard College students participating in Final Club activities are more likely to be sexually assaulted than participants in any other of the student organizations we polled.” The report relied heavily on an anonymous survey conducted for the school by Association of American Universities and released last fall. The AAU survey claimed that 1-in-5 Harvard women were sexually assaulted in some way during their four years on campus. While the report says the survey indicates “that the vast majority of sexual assaults in the College occur in the Houses and freshman dormitories,” the task force pinned the Final Clubs as a guilty party.
In addition to six all-male Finals Clubs, there are five Final Clubs reserved for women and two that are co-ed. There are also five all-male fraternities and four all-female sororities. All the organizations are located off campus.
Last week the school’s student newspaper, the Crimson, reported that one of the male-only Final Clubs, the 225-year-old Porcellian Club, commissioned its own professional statistical analyst to dissect the results of the campus survey, conducted for the school by Association of American Universities.
In a letter addressed to Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, the club’s David T. Lawrence, an alum who serves as president, reiterated the group’s intention to work with the school to help reduce sex assaults on campus but also denounced the connection administrators made to Final Clubs.
“We strongly object to repeated public statements by Harvard officials incorrectly implying that the 2015 AAU survey established statistically a direct connection between sexual assault and final clubs,” the letter stated, referring to the Association of American Universities anonymous campus climate surveys.
An economic statistician, Jora B. Stixrud of Welch Consulting, specifically took aim at the task force’s claim that 47 percent of women who participated in Final Club activities, when surveyed as seniors, reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact as undergraduates.
Stixrud pointed out that the surveys never specifically asked students about the clubs. She also disputed the claim that more than 15 percent of women “reporting penetration involving physical force” said the incident occurred at one of the clubs.
“There are only two questions on the survey with arguable pertinence to Final Clubs,” Stixrud said in her 14-page analysis. “The first asks the respondents about ‘participation’ in clubs and other student groups.”
“The second question, asked elsewhere in the survey and not tied to participation in any undergraduate activity, including clubs, asks those who reported that they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact where the incidents took place.”
Stixrud wrote that one possible answer to the question was: “other space used by a single-sex student social organization.”
“The first question tells us nothing about the issue at hand – whether or not Final Clubs have an effect on the incidence of non-consensual sexual contact,” she said. “The second question was posed in too general a manner to derive any meaningful conclusions from the responses.”
Last month the task force in its report recommended that all Final Clubs admit women as well as men or risk expulsion for its members.
“Either don’t allow simultaneous membership in Final Clubs and college enrollment; or allow clubs to transition to all-gender inclusion with equal gender membership and leadership,” the task force recommended.
Khurana told the Crimson through a spokesman that he wouldn’t be commenting on the Porcellian Club’s letter and Stixrud’s analysis.
Another point Stixrud raised is the “timing of the sexual contact vis-a-vis the timing of involvement in the clubs.”
“A woman who received an unwanted kiss in her dorm room while a freshman would be counted as part of this figure if she later joined an all-female Final Club in her sophomore year,” Stixrud noted.
According to Lawrence’s letter, “the Porcellian Club is a strictly private organization with a policy of no guests on our premises other than family members on special occasions and we are unaware of there ever having been a reported allegation of sexual assault at our club.”
Read the Porcellian Club’s April 27 letter to the school:
Read Stixrud’s 14-page analysis: