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Harvard College has several types of social clubs. These are split between gender-inclusive clubs recognized by the College, and unrecognized single-gender clubs which are subject to College sanctions. The oldest, dating to 1791, are the traditionally all-male final clubs. Fraternities were prominent in the late 19th century as well, until their initial expulsions and then eventual resurrection off Harvard's campus in the 1990s. From 1991 onwards, all-female final clubs as well as sororities began to appear. Between 1984 and 2018, no social organizations were recognized by the school due to the clubs' refusal to become gender-inclusive.
Beginning with the Spee Club in 2015, a number of formerly single-gender organizations began to admit new members regardless of gender. In 2016, Harvard announced sanctions on members of remaining single-gender clubs, aiming to push them to become coed. Eventually, on September 8, 2018, Harvard announced that it would recognize an initial list of fifteen social organizations that either already were gender-inclusive or had committed to becoming gender-inclusive. Eleven clubs remain single-gender, and remain unrecognized by the College.
The historical basis for the name "final clubs" dates to the late 19th century, a time when Harvard had a variety of clubs for students of each class year. During that period, Harvard College freshmen could join a freshman club, then a "waiting club," and eventually, as they neared completion of their studies, a "final club." Hence, students of different years joined different clubs, and the "final clubs" were so named because they were the last social club a person could join before graduation. Harvard's final clubs for women date to 1991 with the founding of the Bee Club.
Many of the clubs were founded in the 19th century, after Harvard banned traditional fraternities in the 1850s. Of the final clubs still in existence (see below), only the Fox was initially founded as a final club. The Phoenix SK is the amalgam of three separate clubs: the Phoenix, the Sphinx, and the Kalumet.
Recognized coed clubs:
Unrecognized all-female clubs:
The Harvard men's final clubs trace their roots to the late 18th century, while the five formerly all-female social clubs were founded more recently. Another women's organization, the Seneca, distinguishes itself as a "501(c)(3) nonprofit women's organization that is often misidentified as a final club."[This quote needs a citation] Several other clubs are also 501(c)(3) organizations and engage in some community service. The Bee was founded in 1991, IC in 2000, Pleiades in 2002, Sab in 2002, and La Vie in 2008. (The co-ed Signet Society, The Harvard Crimson, The Harvard Advocate, Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and The Harvard Lampoon also have selective membership, but their charters define them as something other than social organizations, based on their literary or artistic characteristics.)
Nine of the traditionally all-male clubs own real estate in Harvard Square, with the clubhouses usually including dining areas, libraries, and game rooms. Most are staffed with chefs, stewards, and other paid personnel, and serve lunch and dinner meals at regular schedules. The Delphic & Bee house boasts a regulation-size squash court.
The Fly Club owns additional property at 45 Dunster Street, in a building that is currently home to the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and was previously home to the D.U. Club (the "Duck") and then the Bee Club (before the latter began the process of merging with the Delphic). The D.U. Club closed, in 1995, after an assault of a football recruit occurred at its clubhouse. The D.U. Club's graduate membership merged with the Fly in 1996. In a controversial move, the Fly did not allow former D.U. undergraduate members to integrate, and subsequently the undergraduate D.U. membership formed The Oak Club. La Vie Club rents a colonial style house on Garden Street.
In the fall of 2015, Harvard President Drew Faust criticized the clubs for--as stated by C. Ramsey Fahs of The Harvard Crimson--their "gender exclusivity and the potential for alcohol abuse and sexual assault on the off-campus properties." The Spee Club began admitting women in later 2015, and the Fox Club followed suit but was then temporarily shut down as graduate board members sought to re-evaluate what it meant to be a "member of the Fox".[This quote needs a citation]
As part of an effort to marginalize organizations that "contribute to a social life and a student culture that for many on our campus is disempowering and exclusionary", a new policy provides that students entering in the fall of 2017 or later who join unrecognized single-sex organizations (such as single-sex final clubs, fraternities, and sororities) will be barred from campus leadership positions such as team captaincies, and from receiving recommendation letters from Harvard requisite for scholarships and fellowships. At least one club has protested that the new rule infringes students' right of free association, and enforcement may be stymied by the difficulty of establishing who the members of each club are. In 2016, the President and Vice President of the Undergraduate Council, Shaiba Rather and Daniel Banks spoke before the elected Faculty Council and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University to support the effort to curb gender-discrimination amongst student organizations. Their statement was the first official opinion of any elected members of the student body on the matter. As administrative officials endeavored to implement and rewrite the sanctions, Rather and Banks were drafted as hardliners against any gender discrimination between Final Clubs and the Harvard student body. However, in November 2016, a slight majority of undergraduate student voters on a referendum question were in favor of repealing the sanctions (59.8%), while 30.3% were against repealing the sanctions and 9.8% abstained from voting. The vote had no immediate effect on the policy. In December 2017, the University's highest governing body, the Harvard Corporation, voted to approve the sanctions and confirm their permanence. Currently, members of the class of 2021 and beyond who are members of unrecognized (single-gender) social organizations are barred from "holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations, becoming varsity captains, or receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships," according to the Harvard Crimson. The University has faced questions about how it will enforce its sanctions policy, and the enforcement mechanism remains somewhat unclear. As the class of 2021 had its first opportunity to join single-gender organizations in fall of 2018 (and as members of that class will begin to seek on-campus leadership positions as juniors in 2019), it is expected that Harvard will face its first real test in enforcing the sanctions in 2019. 
In response to the policy, the all-female Sablière and Seneca societies instituted gender-neutral recruitment policies in 2016. The all-male Oak Club followed suit in January 2017 after reaching a "club-wide consensus". Former sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma announced it would form a new gender-inclusive group called the Fleur-de-Lis (FDL) beginning in February 2018. In September 2018, Harvard released a public list of organizations it would recognize, certifying their gender-inclusive status or their commitment to achieving gender-inclusive status. In addition to the Sab, Oak, Seneca, and FDL, this initial list included the Spee Club, the Fox Club, the Delphic Club and Bee Club Merged Group, the Aleph (formerly Alpha Epsilon Pi), the La Vie Club, The IC Club, the K.S. (formerly Kappa Sigma, the Ivy (formerly Alpha Phi, the Pleaides Society, the Kali Praxi (formerly Delta Gamma), and the TA (formerly Kappa Alpha Theta).
In July 2017, a Harvard committee pointed to Bowdoin College as a model for eradicating final clubs, sororities, and fraternities from campus social life. This preliminary recommendation would have taken effect with the incoming class of 2021, so all currently enrolled students would be exempt. The transition period would have extended into May 2022 before all such organizations and social clubs would be abolished.
After the committee released its 22-page report, The Harvard Crimson reported that the committee, co-chaired by Danoff Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, had not been transparent in its deliberations or conclusions. Members of the committee, speaking anonymously, described "a process ... marked by confusion, disagreement, and opacity, resulting in a report that did not necessarily capture the full committee's views." (Hannah Natanson & Derek G. Xiao."Seven Votes: How a Harvard Committee Came to Recommend a Social Group Ban". The Harvard Crimson. July 22, 2017.) Moreover, according to The Crimson, the report misrepresented the conclusions of the committee:
According to documents reviewed by The Crimson, the decision to outlaw membership in social groups at Harvard--some over two centuries old--received only seven votes from the 27-person committee.
By contrast, two other options--one suggesting a new committee to oversee the social groups, another proposing a ban of all organizations that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, or socioeconomic status--gained 12 and 11 votes, respectively. Not every member of the committee was present at the vote.
The committee never conducted another vote after May 12. At the body's last meeting 14 days later, the decision to ban membership in the groups had become a fait accompli: Committee members spent most of the meeting debating the finer points of the proposed social group prohibition, according to two members of the committee. No student members were in attendance.
Harvard severed ties with final clubs in 1984 because of their refusal to admit women.
During the 2006 Senate hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, Senator Ted Kennedy was among those highlighting Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which had opposed admission of women into Princeton; when Kennedy's membership in the Owl Club was pointed out, Kennedy resigned from the club.
That same year, Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick's membership in the Fly Club was criticized as contradictory to his image as a champion of civil rights; Patrick responded that he had left the club in the early 1980s for that reason.[Subscription required]
In December 2018 separate suits were filed in federal and Massachusetts courts by national fraternities and sororities which alleged that Harvard's policies against single-sex clubs were discriminatory. The lawsuits are expected to play out over the course of several years.
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[Quoting, end of paragraph 2, p. 1:] At a time when Harvard is preparing citizens and citizen-leaders to bring people together and embrace an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, these organizations contribute to a social life and a student culture that for many on our campus is disempowering and exclusionary.