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An Elite, All-Male Social Club At Harvard Will Now “Welcome All Genders”

The Spee Club, an exclusive all-male organization established at the university in 1852, announced Friday morning that it will now admit women.

Posted on September 12, 2015, at 1:07 p.m. ET

Elise Amendola / AP Photo

The Spee Club, an exclusive, all-male social organization for Harvard students, announced Friday that it would begin admitting women for the first time in its almost 165-year history, campus newspaper the Crimson reported.

The announcement makes it the first of the Ivy League's eight all-male "final clubs" to become co-ed.

Spee Club President and Harvard senior Matthew Lee told the Crimson on Friday morning that the elite club would now "welcome all genders." BuzzFeed News has reached out to Lee for comment.

Around the same time that day, several Harvard sophomores of both genders received invitations to "punch," or begin the process of joining Spee Club, at their residences.

The "punch" process and "final club" culture was memorably explored in David Fincher's 2010 film The Social Network, which depicted Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin's bid to join one of the clubs.

The organizations are known as "final clubs" because upperclassmen are most likely to join before graduating.

Established in 1852, the Spee Club has served an extremely select fellowship of male Harvard students, according to the New York Times. Apart from its social gatherings, which are typically open to non-members, the club also boasts an eminent professional network that serves both current students and alumni.

The Times noted that Spee Club members include former U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, as well as the Winklevoss twins who sued Mark Zuckerburg over the founding of Facebook (also depicted in The Social Network).

Spee Club's steadfast commitment to exclusivity has not been limited to gender. The Times reported that the organization did not admit Catholic students until the early 1900s. Jewish members were not welcome until the 1930s, and Spee Club did not admit its first black man until the 1960s.

In 1984, Harvard strongly urged Spee Club to become gender-inclusive. Instead, the club disassociated itself with the university, and relocated off-campus, according to the Crimson.

While the two entities are still not officially linked, the campus newspaper noted that Spee Club board members continue to meet with campus administration unofficially.

Darren Mccollester / Getty Images

While some in the campus community have lauded the Spee Club's decision to include women, others remain skeptical of the overall effect it will have.

Brianna Suslovic, a senior at Harvard, told BuzzFeed News she was unimpressed by the announcement.

"My initial impression is that it feels very surface-level, and I don't think it's addressing bigger issues, like the fact that certain people are granted so much more access to those spaces," she said.

Suslovic said that despite the fact that she is now eligible to be admitted to the Spee Club, certain aspects of her "militant" identity deem her "un-punchable."

"I'm low-income, I'm queer, I'm feminist," she told BuzzFeed News. "I walk around campus shouting and writing about inclusivity."

"These are bastions of wealth, property ownership, and secret connections that I, as a member of the campus community, still do not have access to," she said.

The social anthropology student said that in order to address broader issues of exclusion, final clubs should become more transparent about the application process. She told BuzzFeed News that in order to receive the first invitation to punch, you have to already know a member, or they have to know you.

The university has made a concerted effort this year to curb exclusivity and promote gender equality on campus, with a special focus on social groups like the Spee Club.

The same week as the Spee Club's announcement, Harvard President Drew Faust spoke to the Crimson about the pitfalls of celebrating exclusivity and elitism, especially as it relates to gender equality.

Faust said that if the university remains committed to "reaching out beyond who we are, to embrace difference and discomfort ourselves and include people very different from ourselves in the lives we lead," that ideas of exclusion "are sitting uneasily with the segregation of certain groups, the self-segregation of certain groups into final clubs."

In March, the Spee Club circulated an e-invitation for a pajama party that depicted a bear with its arm wrapped around a tank top-clad woman.

The email also included a link to a YouTube video that showed men and women in their underwear walking on a runway with the song "Stay the Night" playing in the background, according to the Crimson.

The video was reportedly deleted from the site the same day the email was sent out, and a Spee Club representative issued a public apology.

Harvard has five all-female social clubs. The first, called The Bee, was established in 1991.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.