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A concentration is to a major as a final club is to a fraternity. A controversial take, maybe, but give me the chance to explain.
We are deep into punch season at Harvard, a season known for its divisiveness and exclusivity, but also its mystery and excitement, engaging sophomores (and this year, juniors) in a under-the-radar, “who do you know” competition straight out of the Social Network. Questions like “What are you doing tonight?” or “Where are you going this weekend?'' take on even more intense “connectivity” connotations than the already networking-heavy party scene at Harvard. Punch events happen at random and are unbeknownst to those not invited, so those who are “in the know” use these questions to probe the general population to see who runs in the same circles.
Before I came to campus, final clubs were an enigma. To outsiders, these clubs are painted with the ambiguity, intrigue, and antiquity of a National Treasure plot. All I knew is that they had to be different from the fraternities that dot the landscape of universities and colleges in the South. They had to be, right? It was Harvard, after all. Certainly the “frat guy” stereotype was a strictly Southern thing, inapplicable in the Northeast.
Fraternities and sororities, especially those in the South, also have a very distinct reputation. From images of huge houses boasting large white columns and Greek letters, to viral #BamaRush Tik Toks, to an intense “rush” process, Greek life in the South is a fundamental aspect of college life. Many find their closest friends within sororities and fraternities, and upon graduating, turn to their Greek-letter organizations for connections.
To many, final clubs at Harvard and Greek life in the South appear very different, but replace the cryptic “punch” process with the opt-in process of “rushing” and you arrive at very similar entities: Social organizations that throw a lot of parties have a huge hold on college social life and operate in varying degrees of exclusivity. Both systems are known for being the center of social life for college students, and both have a history of restricting who is allowed to attend parties and events. And, while the rush process of Greek life is not as exclusive as the punch process of final clubs (where you must be sought out or invited by a friend), Greek life chapters are actively ranked on their appeal, much like final clubs, and admittance into “top tier” houses is also characterized largely by who you know and to whom you are connected.
Oh, and also, the only male final club that did not originally begin as a local chapter of a national college fraternity is the Porcellian.
The purposes of these organizations are largely the same. The Venn-Diagram of stereotypical “frat guy” behavior and “final club guy” behavior could very well be a circle, and this should not necessarily come as a surprise. We all are college students, so our behavior, regardless of institution, is not going to have too great a standard deviation. College students want to have a social life, and a social life in college largely revolves around parties, which Greek life and final clubs provide.
So why the insane exclusivity of final clubs if fundamentally, they really are not much different than fraternities?
The reason is that exclusivity is Harvard's favorite pastime.
Harvard students started their college experience with the narcotic taste of “making the cut” — of being part of the roughly 5 percent of applicants accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. And after being included in the exclusive, all we want is more.
It’s why extracurriculars have such insane comp and application processes, even though nearly every single applicant is qualified. It’s why final clubs have to seek you out, not the other way around. It’s why certain upperclassmen houses are desired more than others, why final clubs do not let everyone into parties. It’s why Patagonias from finance clubs on campus are seen as the identifier of future occupational success, and the process of admittance into said clubs is akin to a job application. We are obsessed with exclusivity, with status, and with being part of something that others are rejected from, because the one big factor that distinguishes us from others at home (the fact that we go to Harvard) does not work when everyone else also goes to Harvard. We have manufactured our own “Ivy League” within these hallowed halls.
Final clubs just scratch the surface of exclusivity at Harvard. The problem with making final clubs the sacrificial lamb in our conversations on Harvard exclusivity is that this lets all other manifestations of our hypercompetitiveness slither under the radar.
Humans are hardwired to enjoy the feeling of being wanted, and that is what exclusivity within Harvard’s web of clubs and organizations and arbitrary status symbols offers — the feeling of being wanted when not everyone else is allowed to be.
Frats in the South are more similar to Harvard final clubs than many would like to admit. The only significant difference is Harvard's toxic addiction to exclusivity.
Ellie H Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column "From Houston to Harvard" runs on alternate Fridays.
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