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Secret Harvard Club Breaks Centuries of Silence to Oddly Defend Male-Only Policy

One way to reduce sexual assault against women, the club’s board president said, was not to have them around.

The front door of the club’s clubhouse, known as the Old Barn. (Photo: Tim Pierce/CC BY 3.0)

Let’s stipulate that Charles Storey, the board president of Harvard University’s secretive and highly exclusive Porcellian Club, is probably a smart man.

He got into Harvard, after all, which is hard to do. And he also gained entry into the Porcellian, one of the university’s oldest clubs for undergraduates and one that has counted Theodore Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes as members.

But neither of those credentials quite explain perplexing comments Storey, class of ‘82, made Tuesday about sexual assault, in defending the club’s policy of having only men as members. If the club accepted women as members, he told the Harvard Crimson, that “could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.”

If there are no women around, women cannot be sexually assaulted at the club, in other words, which is a true statement. 

There’s some evidence that Storey thought about his comments, which broke a 225-year streak of public silence for the Porcellian, before making them. He sent them by email, for one thing, in a long statement that includes a lot of other thoughts on sexual assault at the university. Storey also seemed to recognize that his statement would get some attention.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time an officer of the PC has granted an on-the-record statement to a newspaper since our founding in 1791,” Storey wrote in the email to the Crimson. “This reflects both the PC’s abiding interest in privacy and the importance of the situation.”

Storey and the Porcellian Club—members are “Porkies” for life—have been under fire for weeks after a scathing report said that Harvard’s final clubs were a hotbed of “nonconsensual sexual conduct.” And Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, has been aggressive in calling the six all-male final clubs antiquated and “at odds” with the 21st century. (Final clubs are highly-exclusive social clubs that are a Harvard tradition; there are also two co-ed final clubs and five all-female final clubs, which were founded in the more recent past.)

At any rate, the Porcellian Club will always have its history. It is generally considered the most prestigious of the final clubs, on a par with Yale’s famous secret society Skull and Bones. It’s so prestigious that after former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who achieved things, did not get into the club, he later called it one of the most “devastating” things he’s ever dealt with. 

It’s possible that Roosevelt wasn’t missing much. It’s also possible that 225 years of silence may have been the right choice for the club all along.